National Emergencies Explained

Now that Trump has declared a national emergency at the border with Mexico, I thought we should discuss national emergencies. I will briefly describe the National Emergencies Act and its key provisions.

The National Emergencies Act became law in 1976. The idea was to give the president limited power to quickly respond to emergencies. Key provisions of the law are as follows:

  • The president has the power to declare an emergency.
  • Congress can overrule the president’s decision to declare an emergency when both the House and Senate pass a resolution of disapproval.
  • If one house of Congress passes a resolution of disapproval, the other house of Congress must take a vote on the resolution within 18 days.
  • Under the law, a simple majority vote in both the House and Senate was enough to reverse the declaration of emergency.
  • In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled the so-called legislative veto unconstitutional. The legislative veto was an attempt of Congress to reduce the president’s power by removing the president’s ability to veto certain pieces of legislation.

What this means is when the House adopts a resolution disapproving of Trump’s emergency, the Senate will have to vote. If a majority of Senators approve the resolution, it will go to the president, where it will be vetoed. Trump’s veto will keep the emergency in place and leave it to the courts to decide.

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