Thomas P. Crocker Named Winner of 2020 Chicago-Kent College of Law Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

[Update] Register for Palmer Civil Liberties Prize Lecture by Thomas Crocker on Tuesday, October 5 at 3:00 p.m. here


CHICAGO, August 4, 2021The 2020 Chicago-Kent College of Law Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize has been awarded to Thomas P. Crocker for his book titled Overcoming Necessity: Emergency, Constraint, and the Meanings of American Constitutionalism (Yale University Press 2020). The annual prize honors exemplary works of scholarship exploring the tension between civil liberties and national security in contemporary American society.

“I am honored to have my book recognized by this important award,” Crocker says. “Receiving the Palmer Prize furthers my book’s contribution to the enduring and unfolding conversation over how American constitutionalism can best respond to the necessities of events while preserving our commitment to civil liberties.”Overcoming Necessity Book Cover

In Overcoming Necessity, Crocker explores the tensions between presidential actions taken during national emergencies and their effect on civil liberties, which has led to an evolving political understanding of presidential powers. The book discusses national emergencies throughout history and the response from democratic institutions. The United States Constitution’s separation of powers provides internal checks on emergency actions taken under claims of necessity, and Crocker urges the U.S. Congress, the courts, and other bodies to put those checks into practice.

“Americans take pride in their constitutional form, except when it interferes with function.…What role are we willing to allow necessity to play in justifying national policy?” Crocker writes, noting that the consent of the people is always a factor in legitimizing such executive orders: “A community is accountable for the character of its choices. Thus, constitutional equilibrium is always fragile.”

The Palmer Prize committee notes that Crocker’s book “grapples with one of the most important and difficult issues in American constitutional law and theory,” and not only gives a thorough account of the U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in the area, but “forcefully argues that such measures must be constrained by values and principles that reflect our national identity, character, and commitment to a liberal democratic constitutional order based on reflection and choice.”

Crocker is the N. Heyward Clarkson Jr. Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. His recent scholarship focuses on issues of privacy, constitutional interpretation, and the nature of constitutional constraints. He will present Overcoming Necessity at Chicago-Kent on October 5, 2021.

The Palmer Prize was established in 2007 by Chicago-Kent alumnus Roy C. Palmer and his wife, Susan M. Palmer. Palmer, a lawyer and real estate developer, was a 1962 honors graduate of Chicago-Kent and a member of its Board of Advisors. He received the Chicago-Kent Alumni Association’s 2012 Distinguished Service Award and was named by the law school in 2013 as one of “125 Alumni of Distinction.” With his wife, Palmer was active in numerous civic, social, and philanthropic organizations. Palmer died in February 2017.

See the full list of distinguished scholars who have won the Palmer Prize since 2007.