This editorial reminds us of the great increase in federal power regarding coercive force (also aid with guns).
Section 1076 of the Defense Authorization Act of 2006 changed the name of the key provision in the statute book from “Insurrection Act” to “Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order Act.” The Insurrection Act of 1807 stated that the president could deploy troops within the United States only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The new law expands the list of pretexts to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition” – and such a “condition” is not defined or limited.
One might think that given the experience with the USA PATRIOT Act and many other abuses of power, Congress would be leery about giving this president his biggest blank check yet to suspend the Constitution. But that would be naïve.
The new law was put in place in response to the debacle of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. There was no evidence that permitting a president far more power would avoid future debacles, but such a law provides a comfort blanket to politicians. The risk of tyranny is irrelevant compared with the reduction of risk of embarrassment to politicians. According to Washington, the correct response to Katrina is not to recognize the failure of relying on federal agencies a thousand miles away but rather to vastly increase the power of the president to dictate a solution, regardless of whether he knows what he is doing and regardless of whether local and state rights are trampled.
The new law also empowers the president to commandeer the National Guard of one state to send to another state for as many as 365 days. Bush could send the South Carolina National Guard to suppress anti-war protests in New Haven. Or the next president could send the Massachusetts National Guard to disarm the residents of Wyoming, if they resisted a federal law that prohibited private ownership of semi-automatic weapons. Governors’ control of the National Guard can be trumped with a simple presidential declaration.
Section 1076 had bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, including support from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Since the law would give the feds more power, it was very popular inside the Beltway.
On the other hand, every governor in the country opposed the changes. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned on September 19, 2006, that “we certainly do not need to make it easier for presidents to declare martial law.” Leahy’s alarm got no response. Ten days later, he commented in the Congressional Record, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.”
A lot of people are very selective about what they see as government coercion and as justifiable intervention, whether it be taxes, policing, spying, financial regulations, school. In any economic or government model and/or policy, the questions need answering that eventually affect our personal lives. Many form their arguments around a ‘big or small’ hypotheses, but also there appears a lot of variablity about what areas are subject to the notion of ‘big or small’, or ‘centralized or diversified’.
In our discussions we tend to fragment these arguments as if they are not connected to each other. I fail to see how a liberal like me and a National Rifle member could disagree that this form of possible coercion is wrong. So why are we quiet?