WHAT IT IS
National emergencies result from danger or a threat of danger to a nation from foreign or domestic sources. [Merriam-Webster]
The National Emergencies Act (NEA) provides the framework for a president to declare a national emergency when he or she deems it necessary. There is no specific definition of "national emergency." [The Washington Post], [Congressional Research Service]
- A national emergency declaration is apart of a broader set of "emergency powers," first used by President George Washington in 1792. [USA Today]
- A president must issue a signed declaration, typically an executive order, that outlines the specific emergency powers he plans to use. [The Washington Post]
- The declaration of national emergency is a powerful executive power as it can unlock 136 statutory powers. [Brennan Center for Justice]
- Many of the legal limitations placed on the president are virtually removed during a declared national emergency. [The Atlantic]
- Congress cannot stop the president from declaring an emergency, but can pass a "joint resolution of termination." [The Washington Post]
- National emergencies must be renewed yearly to remain in effect. [The Los Angeles Times]
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: The National Emergencies Act allows the president to declare a national emergency under almost any circumstance.
SOCIAL: Such broad powers granted to presidents is worrying to some, as the declaration can rely only on the judgment of a single person. There needs to be a rapid process of consensus building before a national emergency is declared.
President Jimmy Carter
November 14, 1979: Blocking Iranian Government Property [U.S. Department of the Treasury]
Declared immediately after the Iran Hostage Crisis began, in which 50 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. [U.S. State Department]
President George W. Bush
September 14, 2001: The Bush administration issued the Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks. [The White House]
Declared after 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,996 people and injured 6,000. [The Washington Post]
President Barack Obama
Oct. 2009: National emergency for H1N1 Swine Flu. [The New York Times]
The disease was widespread in 46 states and the declaration allowed hospitals to more easily treat patients. [Reuters]
President Donald Trump
Declaration of national emergency unlocks 136 powers that are now available to the president. [Brennan Center for Justice]
During a national emergency, a president can:
freeze U.S. bank accounts.
seize private property.
shut down electronic communication systems.
kill or indefinitely detain enemy soldiers.
declare martial law.
suspend habeas corpus.
suspend laws that prohibit the testing of biological and chemical agents on humans.
Since the first national emergency declaration in 1976, 60 national emergencies have been declared. [Brennan Center for Justice]
31 of those emergencies are still in effect. See them all here.
See you in court
Anyone directly affected by the declaration can challenge or sue the government. [The Washington Post]
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Feb. 2019: President Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. [The New York Times] The Trump administration will now have to seize land from Americans in order to build a wall along the southern border. [Vox]
California Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the national emergency declaration. 15 states have followed suit, using the president's words that he "didn't have to do this" indicating no crisis. [NPR]
Mar. 2020: President Trump declared a national emergency to help fight COVID-19. This declaration provides $50 billion in additional funding. [The Wall Street Journal]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Read A Guide to Emergency Powers and Their Use from the Brennan Center for Justice.
See all national emergencies here.
Is this presidential power usurping the checks and balances set by the Founding Fathers? Read an opinion here.
Read an opinion on why the National Emergencies Act was never meant for Trump’s border wall.