Loophole in law governing U.S. military use on U.S. soil raises concerns
Following President Donald Trump’s vows last month to use active-duty troops to help enforce order in American cities, a Democratic senator wants lawmakers to fill a loophole in federal law allowing such actions without the approval of Congress.
Senator Tom Udall, DN.M. and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel, will propose an amendment to the pending Defense Authorization Bill on Wednesday so that the Posse Comitatus Act applies to all military troops, regardless of their orders. activation.
“The US military should not be the president’s tool to enforce his dangerous political agenda against its own citizens,” Udall told the Military Times. “Congress must work to prevent any scenario in which our military, an institution that has sworn to protect and defend our Constitution and our freedom, is instead used as a weapon to suppress American First Amendment rights. “
It is not yet clear whether the proposal is subject to serious legislative scrutiny. Republican Senate leaders did not specify which amendments would be debated and voted on by the entire chamber in the coming days.
But the New Mexico lawmaker hopes the measure can spark a conversation about the potential limitations of the Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 law that prohibits federal troops from engaging in most national law enforcement activities. .
The issue has been raised several times in recent years, with Trump’s decision to deploy active-duty troops to the southern border of the United States to assist with certain Department of Homeland Security operations there.
More recently, amid nationwide protests against racial inequality and police brutality, Trump has suggested he could use active-duty troops to “dominate” the streets of American cities, with or without the blessing of state governors.
Additionally, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley are expected to testify before the House Armed Services Committee next week about the National Guard forces’ potential overreaction in the protest response.
Under current law, the Posse Comitatus Act applies to active forces and National Guard units activated under Title 10 orders, for federal level missions.
But the guards can also be activated under the orders of Title 32, for missions at the state level. The limitations on domestic law enforcement activities are not the same, and Udall has called Trump’s recent comments about using such forces to restrain protesters disturbing.
Udall believes passing the amendment would prevent the president from taking such steps in the future.
The proposal exempts disaster relief efforts and would not affect the ability of Guard units to conduct certain drug control and homeland defense activities.
It would also not make changes to the Insurgency Act, which allows the president to activate troops in an emergency to perform certain law enforcement tasks, with or without the request of a governor.
Senate officials are expected to pass the Defense Authorization Act later this month.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.