Illinois State University and the David Davis Mansion have partnered together for a three-day conference to mark the 150th anniversary of ex parte Milligan (1866) September 22-24, at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal.

The event is open to the public, but participants must register and provide payment no later than September 5.

The event includes three keynote speakers: Historian Michael Les Benedict from The Ohio State University, Constitutional Scholar Louis Fisher of the Constitution Project, and Law Professor Jonathan Hafetz from Seton Hall Law School.

Historians and constitutional scholars of Abraham Lincoln and civil liberties will also speak at the event including 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; and Brooks Simpson, author of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865.  For a complete list of all speakers and the event details, visit the website.

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

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 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, an assertion seemingly counter to both Davis’s majority opinion as well as the more circumspect concurring opinion.