Twelve Steps to Restore Checks and Balances

January 1, 2008

Download copy of report here
About the author

Executive Privilege. Extraordinary Rendition. Secret legal opinions. Warrantless wiretapping. Indefinite detention. Suspension of habeas corpus. America's system of checks and balances is eroding, upsetting the delicate balance of power set forth in the Constitution. Twelve Steps to Restore Checks and Balances proposes specific reforms designed to keep the nation secure and free, as the Constitution's framers intended. In Twelve Steps to Restore Checks and Balances, Aziz Huq, Director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, offers a step-by-step plan to restore our constitutional system of government. Twelve Steps traces the origins of the Bush Administration’s theory of monarchical power and points the way to a comprehensive plan to realign our system of checks and balances in the way that the Founders intended.

Mr. Huq’s proposal is not an indictment of all the methods used to fight terrorism.  Rather, it seeks to set a new path in the way that America works to prevent terrorism that is consistent with cherished liberties. Twelve Steps offers a course of action that the current crop of presidential candidates, Congress, and the President can take to restore checks and balances.


For the President and presidential candidates:  Mr. Huq asks the President and candidates for executive office to renounce the theory of the monarchical presidency (first crafted by then Rep. Dick Cheney in the minority report on the Iran-Contra scandal), renounce the use of signing statements to circumvent the law, and agree to disclose past legal opinions that have influenced the President’s use of national security powers.

For Congress:  Mr. Huq proposes an immediate, articulated official end to government-sanctioned torture, the restoration of habeas corpus, greater congressional oversight of intelligence activities and the inspector general system, increased regulation of claims of executive privilege, reformation of the Office of Legal Counsel, and enactment of new laws to limit excessive secrecy and the use of the state secrets privilege.  The last step of the proposal calls for the creation of a new “Church Committee” to conduct a “thorough accounting of national security policy and its systemic flaws.”



Aziz Huq is counsel in several cases concerning detention and national security policy, including Omar v. Geren and Munaf v. Geren, which challenges two U.S. citizens' detention in Iraq. He has advised and spoken before legislators on issues related to the separation of powers, excessive secrecy, and illegal detention. His book with Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power In A Time of Terror (The New Press), was published in 2007. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation, the American Prospect, the New York Law Journal and Huffington Post. His articles have also appeared in the Washington Post, the New Republic, Democracy Journal, TomPaine, and Colorlines. In 2006 he was selected to be a Carnegie Fellows Scholar.  Before joining the Brennan Center, Mr. Huq clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the October 2003 Term of the Supreme Court of the United States, and for Judge Robert D. Sack of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (2001-02). He graduated summa cum laude from both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1996), and Columbia Law School (2001). At Columbia, he was Essay and Review Editor of the Columbia Law Review, and received several academic awards, including the John Ordonneux Prize (given to the graduating student with the highest grade point average). Before and during law school, Mr. Huq has also worked on human rights issues overseas in Guatemala and Cambodia. In 2002, he received a Columbia Law School Post-Graduate Human Rights Fellowship to work with the International Crisis Group studying constitutional reform in Afghanistan.