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Domestic Deployment of the Military

Outdated laws give presidents far too much leeway to deploy military forces inside the United States. We’re working to reform those laws and establish new safeguards against abuse.

Overview

The domestic activ­it­ies of the U.S. milit­ary are governed by a complex web of laws. The key pillars of this frame­work are the Posse Comit­atus Act and the Insur­rec­tion Act, which have not been mean­ing­fully updated since the 19th century. Designed for a dramat­ic­ally differ­ent coun­try than the 21st century United States, these laws give pres­id­ents broad author­ity to use milit­ary forces as a domestic police force, in viol­a­tion of this coun­try’s found­ing prin­ciples. State governors have even broader powers to deploy their own national guard forces.

Moreover, in some areas, the law is danger­ously unclear. Even the vital ques­tion of whether the Consti­tu­tion allows the federal govern­ment to declare martial law has never been conclus­ively answered by the courts. This uncer­tainty makes it easier for unscru­pu­lous govern­ment actors to circum­vent the few safe­guards against abuse that do exist.

The risks of the current system were vividly illus­trated in June 2020, when the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, rely­ing on an unpre­ced­en­ted inter­pret­a­tion of a little-known stat­ute, summoned thou­sands of national guards­men into Wash­ing­ton, DC, to police racial justice protests — against the local govern­ment’s wishes and without follow­ing the proced­ures estab­lished by Congress.

The Bren­nan Center has brought these issues to light through its research. We also are work­ing with allies to develop and promote reforms that will prevent future abuses while main­tain­ing the pres­id­ent’s abil­ity to deploy the milit­ary domest­ic­ally in response to genu­ine emer­gen­cies.

Experts