National Emergency? Which One?

By Michael Maharrey

So, is there a national emergency or no? The president says yes. Congress says no. Here’s the dirty little secret – no matter how things turn out with the “border emergency,” there are still plenty more where that came from.

It’s important to note here that the president doesn’t have the power to declare a national emergency. And no, the National Emergencies Act didn’t give him that power – not under the Constitution. The power wasn’t Congress’s to give. And even if Congress had the authority to broadly declare a national emergency, it wouldn’t have the authority to transfer that power to the executive branch. More on that HERE.

At any rate, if you’re concerned about the possibility of not having an emergency due to congressional stonewalling don’t you worry. There are still plenty of emergencies for the government to attend to.

Thirty-one to be precise.

I kid you not. There are 31 national emergencies in effect, right at this very moment. That’s not including the 2019 build the wall crisis.

For instance, Jimmy Carter declared a national emergency in response to the Iran hostage crisis. That went into effect on Nov. 14, 1979. Forty years later, it’s still in effect. In case you’ve forgotten, the hostages were released in 1981.

Now, you might think some absent-minded bureaucrat forgot to end the national emergency when the hostages came home. Nope. These things have to be renewed every year. So, why is this one still in effect? I’m sure the government could give you a good reason. And by good, I mean dumb. But I’m going to guess that it has something to do with giving some government entity (like the executive branch) some kind of unconstitutional power it shouldn’t have ever had in the first place. You can call me cynical, but you know I’m not wrong.

Here’s my favorite ongoing national emergency courtesy of George W. Bush. He declared a national emergency “With Respect to Export Control Regulations.” This renewed presidential power to control exports during a national emergency after the Export Administration Act of 1979 lapsed. So, in essence, Bush declared an emergency so that he could control exports in the event of an emergency.

The bottom line is that it shouldn’t escape you that there is ALWAYS some kind of emergency. (Or 31. Or 32, depending on how you count Trump’s emergency.)

Here’s the truth. All of this is a power grab. When the president declares an emergency, it “streamlines government.” In other words. it strips away the embedded checks on power. It should also not escape your attention that emergencies don’t ever seem to go away. So, the resulting shift in power stays in place.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest this is not a good thing if you really value liberty.


Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center, where this article first appeared. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com and like him on Facebook HERE.

Image credit: Corbett Report


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