Bush calls for expanding Federal authority

Friday, September 16, 2005

States "rights" battle unfolding.

In an address to the nation on Thursday, President Bush laid out a sweeping set of initiatives to aid the rebuilding effort of the gulf region and called for an investigation into what went wrong in the disaster and how better to respond in the future.

Following a list of economic stimulus programs designed to aid small businesses and individuals, the president called for something sure to draw fierce debate, a broadening of Federal power to declare martial law.

"It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces – the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment’s notice."
Bush addressing the nation from New Orleans Sept. 15, 2005 immediately after calling for expanded authority to declare martial law

This follows on the heels of the Bush administration's failed effort to have Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco sign documents allowing Bush to invoke the Insurrection Act during the height of the crisis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Current law prevents regular military troops from law enforcement except in the case of insurrection against the state if that state has lost the ability to maintain order. Loosening of this restriction, and whatever else is contemplated in the president's statement, would mean a fundamental shift in the current balance of power between the Federal and State governments.

Additional Information

Remarks on the Senate Floor Sept. 13th, 2005 by Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee: (excerpt)

"Mr. President, as we face an uncertain future as it relates to terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction, I have some thoughts with regard to this law which was passed in 1878 which restricts in certain ways--and the predicate for doing so is wise--men and women of the Armed Forces--that is, a permanent U.S. military as opposed to National Guard--in matters relating to law enforcement.
Traditionally, that has always been left to the local authorities, and that is the way it should be. But sometimes there may be one--I will have to examine the facts--that becomes so overwhelming or so incapacitated by a natural disaster, or perhaps a terrorist attack, that the Armed Forces may have to perform some of those duties. We want to make sure the President has that capability.
Also, there are other permanent laws on the books called the Insurrection Statutes. At a very minimum, I would like to see the name changed that we put on this for reasons quite different than the threats and challenges that face this Nation today. But that statute also might be reviewed, along with the Posse Comitatus Act, to see whether other permanent pieces of law should be modified to meet the contingencies we face here in the future."