Ex Parte Milligan Conference

Ex Parte Milligan at 150: The Constitution & Military Commissions in

American Wars on Terror

Illinois State University, Normal , Illlinois

September 22-24, 2016

For registration information go to


You may attend all or part of the conference- see website for schedule

co-sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Association

In the summer of 1866, U. S. Supreme Court Justice David Davis retired to his home in Bloomington, Illinois to write the majority opinion in Ex Parte Milligan, a controversial case that developed out of the Civil War and the Lincoln Administration's use of military commissions to try civilians. Contrary to his friend Lincoln's position, Davis famously held that trial by military commissions was only acceptable where there was a real war and where civilian courts were impaired.

There are three keynote speakers:

Historian: Michael Les Benedict The Ohio State University

Consititutional Scholar: Louis Fisher Constitution Project

Law Professor: Jonathan Hafetz Seton Hall Law School

Despite Davis's soaring rhetoric, the decision has remained controversial. Since 9/11, ex parte Milligan and the issues surrounding it have assumed renewed centrality in our national debates. The administration of George W. Bush exercised and defended sweeping executive discretion in prosecuting the war on terror, including the use of military commissions, as assertion seemingly counter to both Davis's majority opinion as well as the more circumspect concurring opinion.

And despite four Supreme Court decisions, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004), Rasul v. Bush (2004), Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2006), and Boumediene v. Bush (2008), the law in this area remains unsettled. The continuing salience of Ex Parte Milligan has been underlined again. On October 22, 2014, it and related decisions aired again in a Guantanamo-related case heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which some experts believe will soon head to the Supreme Court.

The keynote speakers will be joined by historians and constitutional scholars for two plenary sessions:

Lincoln, Civil Liberties and the Milligan Decision

Milligan and Gitmo

In addition to the keynote speakers, a number of important scholars of Lincoln and Civil Liberties will be delivering remarks:

William Blair Author of With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era

Roger Billings Co-editor of Abraham Lincoln, Esq.:The Legal Career of America's Greatest President

Christopher Phillips Author of The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border

Brooks Simpson Author of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865

Stephen Towne Author of Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War: Exposing Confederate Conspiracies in America's Heartland

Jennifer Weber Author of Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's Opponents in the North

Jonathan White Author of of Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War: The Trials of John Merryman

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