Statutes of Doom
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
November 16, 1999

NEWSMAX.COM-The subject of emergency powers is not often discussed in newspapers, magazine publications, or even in public hearings in Washington, D.C.

When this topic is brought up, for example, in the Iran Contra Hearings of 1987 or the Y2K Hearings of 1998, only obtuse and limited reference to any substantive content material is allowed. This is because documents relating to this area are almost always classified.

To complicate matters, there are so many layers of statutes and executive orders surrounding the area of emergency powers that misconceptions abound. Some of the legal instruments involved revoke prior ones, and some absorb the content of others, so the confusion just seems to multiply.

In 1933, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. Congress passed the War and Emergency Powers Act. The act has never been repealed. This legislation was an amendment to the Trading with the Enemies Act that was originally passed by Congress in 1917.

Due to the circumstances surrounding World War I, the president was granted full control over citizens of enemy countries, along with their property, who were living or working in this country. This act expressly excluded transactions being conducted domestically by American citizens. However, through the 1933 amendment to the 1917 Act, citizens were reclassified so as to be included within the "enemy" category.

Numerous other statutes have been used to delegate emergency powers to the president. For example, in 1971 President Nixon declared an emergency because of the growing discrepancy in our federal balance of payments. He disconnected the value of the dollar from the gold standard, levied a surtax on imports, and froze domestic prices for 90 days. Once again, the situation clearly showed a president pushing the limits of constitutional power.

In 1974 a special committee reported to Congress that there were some 470 provisions in federal law delegating special emergency authority to the executive branch. Still in effect were executive orders from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, and Nixon that placed the nation in a state of emergency.

Most Americans surely would have been surprised to discover that the nation had been in a state of declared national emergency since March 9, 1933.

Two important acts further delegated emergency power to the executive branch. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 terminated any existing declarations of national emergency effective September 14, 1978. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 gave the president certain emergency powers to contend with the world economy.

Today Americans may again be stunned to find out that the current president has declared more national emergencies than any other president in history, 14 to date, and that we continue to live in a state of declared national emergency. Why, one might ask, is this a danger?

Well, in 1994 President Clinton signed an executive order that consolidated and subsumed powers that had been set forth in a number of executive orders issued by his predecessors. If one were to follow the genealogy of executive orders, the origin of this particular set of orders can be traced to a collection of ominous orders issued by John F. Kennedy in 1962 that dealt with emergency powers.

The Kennedy orders were stark and obvious in their explicit clarity with regard to what they empowered the president and others in his administration to do in an emergency situation. The executive orders allowed the president and others in his administration to take over all of the media, all power and energy sources, all farms and food distribution channels including retail stores, all transportation, all labor, all hospitals and all medical care.

They enabled the authorities to impose national registration, relocate populations, reallocate housing, and appropriate jobs. In short, these executive orders allowed the president and his administrative officials to suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

A report by the Congressional Research Service states a president, using these emergency powers, could "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 variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens."

The danger of these executive orders is staggering, because they empower a single individual with this type of authority in the first place and because they essentially sidestep the Constitution. These powers have only multiplied over the years and reside in a most concentrated manner in the present administration.

In the next installment of this series, we will probe into the laws that are kept secret from the press, the people, and even select committees of Congress.

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