Unending National Emergency
I don’t feel any commentary is needed. I will simply quote from the Senate Report 93-549 from the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency, 93rd Congress, 1st Session, November 19, 1973:
Since March 9, 1933, the United States has been in a state of declared national emergency. In fact, there are now in effect four presidentially-proclaimed states of national emergency: In addition to the national emergency declared by President Roosevelt in 1933, there are also the national emergency proclaimed by President Truman on December 16, 1950, during the Korean conflict, and the states of national emergency declared by President Nixon on March 23, 1970, and August 15, 1971.
These proclamations give force to 470 provisions of Federal law. These hundreds of statutes delegate to the President extraordinary powers, ordinarily exercised by the Congress, which affect the lives of American citizens in a host of all-encompassing manners. This vast range of powers, taken together, confer enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal Constitutional processes.
Under the powers delegated by these statutes, the President may:
seize property; organize and control the means of production; seize commodities; assign military forces abroad; institute martial law; seize and control all transportation and communication; regulate the operation of private enterprise; restrict travel; and, in a plethora of particular ways, control the lives of all American citizens.
A majority of the people of the United States have lived all of their lives under emergency rule. For 40 years, freedoms and governmental procedures guaranteed by the Constitution have, in varying degrees, been abridged by laws brought into force by states of national emergency.
Following the allied victory, Wilson relinquished his wartime authority and asked Congress to repeal the emergency statutes, enacted to fight more effectively the war. Only a food-control measure and the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act were retained. This procedure of terminating emergency powers when the particular emergency itself has, in fact, ended has not been consistently followed by his successors.
The Trading With the Enemy Act had, however, been specifically designed by its originators to meet only wartime exigencies. By employing it to meet the demands of the depression, Roosevelt greatly extended the concept of “emergencies” to which expansion of executive powers might be applied. And in so doing, he established a pattern that was followed frequently: In time of crisis the President should utilize any statutory authority readily at hand, regardless of its original purposes, with the firm expectation of ex post facto congressional concurrence.
Besides the 1933 and Korean war emergencies, two other states of declared national emergency remain in existence. On March 23, 1970, confronted by a strike of Postal Service employees, President Nixon declared a national emergency. The following year, on August 15, 1971, Nixon proclaimed another emergency, under which he imposed stringent import controls in order to meet an international monetary crisis. Because of its general language, however, that proclamation could serve as sufficient authority to use a substantial proportion of all the emergency statutes now on the books.
Over the course of at least the last 40 years, then, Presidents have had available an enormous – seemingly expanding and never-ending – range of emergency powers. Indeed, at their fullest extent and during the height of a crisis, these “prerogative” powers appear to be virtually unlimited, confirming Locke’s perceptions. Because Congress and the public are unaware of the extent of emergency powers, there has never been any notable congressional or public objection made to this state of affairs. Nor have the courts imposed significant limitations.