We look to the past to understand the present. In 2007, when newspapers highlighted the illegal detentions at Guantanamo and the extent of federal authority in wartime, author Kermit Roosevelt thought back to World War II—specifically, the internment of Japanese-Americans on American soil. This dark period of our country’s history informs Allegiance, Roosevelt’s sophisticated legal thriller from Regan Arts, which lands in bookstore on August 25th. How could our government have supported illegal detentions not once, but twice? Read on for Roosevelt’s take.
In 2007, two years after the publication of my first novel (In the Shadow of the Law), my editor said to me that he wanted my next one to be set in the Supreme Court. I told him I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’d love to write about the Court, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was revealing secrets from my time working there. (I clerked for Justice Souter in 1999-2000, and he’s a very private person.) My editor said, “No problem! Set it ten years in the future when there are nine new Justices.”
That also seemed like an unpromising idea to me, because it would require me to invent nine new Justices and predict the pressing legal issues of a decade hence. I told my wife about the dilemma, and she had a simple answer: set it in the past.
And that seemed like a great idea. No one would think I was writing about the current Court, and instead of inventing nine new Justices I could just research them—something my day job as a law professor has made me quite familiar with. Also, of course, setting the novel in the past would let me scan the whole history of the Court for an era and a set of cases with relevance to the present day. So I started looking…
What I was thinking about in 2007 was the response to 9/11, and more particularly the Guantanamo detentions. I had just recently received a call from a tax lawyer (more on that later) asking me to serve as a constitutional law consultant on a Guantanamo case, and I’d accepted. So I wanted to write something about what we do in times of national insecurity.
The parallels, at a high level of generality, were obvious. There was a shocking attack, striking us in a way we didn’t think possible. There was a President expanding the power of the federal government, asserting he could do whatever was necessary to protect the nation. There were Supreme Court cases about the limits of governmental authority in wartime.
So I thought that mostly what I would be doing was taking these broad parallels and layering current concerns onto a roughly similar history. And I did some of that. I have Supreme Court Justices and other government figures as significant characters in the book. Much of their dialogue is true to life—I read biographies, autobiographies, diaries, and correspondence—but some of it is taken from recent events. “We should look forward, not back.” “We shouldn’t criminalize policy differences or condemn actions taken in good faith to protect the nation.” “You have to remember what it was like then.” “We feared another attack.” Those are contemporary lines about the CIA torture program, but they fit very easily into the mouths of people discussing the detention of Japanese-Americans. (That program, which uprooted over 100,000 mostly birthright citizens, ended up being a large part of Allegiance.) Continue reading ›