Currently we are under 31 National Emergency Declarations, the most common being sanctions, export limits, and weapons proliferation's. President Trump has signed three of them. They are more common than people realize and generally do not make the evening news. The concern over presidential power began as the constitution was being written and grew as the country became involved in world events. Presidents generally had the ability to use their powers at will until World War I. During the war discussions began about the role of the president. Were presidential actions good stewardship, did they provide leadership, were emergency powers really used for emergencies or were they political overreach?
The 1976 National Emergencies Act states that the president must formally declare an emergency. Generally speaking, the emergency must require immediate action(s) and can be defined by one of four characteristics: a sudden crisis, by the gravity of the situation if immediate action is not taken, the perception of the emergency and who determines it, and an unanticipated event that requires action. When declaring an emergency, the president must offer a legal rationale for using emergency powers along with a description of what governmental resources would be used.
Navigating the legal terminology of a National Emergency Declaration and explaining it in class can be challenging, especially when we are trying to remain nonpartisan. The best way is to stick to the facts and encourage students to think critically for themselves. There are a great number of resources available to help instructors answer questions and create assignments.
The Statutory Legislative Procedures is a PDF of the actual law code.
CRS Report for Congress, National Emergencies Powers is a PDF that contains the historical background for the act, the act and procedures. If is an excellent primer.
The Brennan Center for Justice provides a sort-able list of national emergencies by level of presidential restrictions.
ABC’s List of 31 National Emergencies Still in Effect provides a list with a brief description of the act.
What resources do you have to help students understand a National Emergency Declaration?
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