Raise your hand if you knew our country has been in a national state of emergency for over 11 years. If you didn’t, well, surprise! We have been, and on Friday President Obama let us know that he was extending the provision for another year, until September 14th, 2013.
The President can declare a state of national emergency whenever he feels like it. Common sense would tell us that a state of national emergency would start when bad things actually start happening, and end when said bad thing stops happening – or soon after. This is apparently not how presidents feel about it.
In the 1970s, post-Watergate investigations revealed that the country had been in a continuous state of emergency since 1950. In response, the National Emergencies Act, established in 1976, was supposed to stop the president from being able to declare open-ended states of emergency. The law puts an automatic expiration date of two years on any national emergency, unless the president explicitly extends it, as Obama did last week. While usually used for natural disasters, President Bush declared a state of emergency in 2009 for the District of Columbia in anticipation of the influx of people into the capital for the inauguration of current President Obama.
During an emergency, the writ of Habeas corpus can be suspended, as can the privilege of a trial with a grand jury for National Guard members. (Habeas corpus is the part of the constitution that says you cannot be detained without reason or a trial—and when it’s suspended, you could theoretically be held indefinitely without either.) Abraham Lincoln is infamous for suspending it.
The president’s message to Congress on Tuesday stated that “the terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14th, 2001, of a national emergency continues,” and informed them (and us) that he has extended the emergency for that reason for another year. We’ll see what this means for the election and general sense of well-being in this country as the year passes, though our prediction is very little, and nothing good, respectively.