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Explainer: The 213-year-old law Trump may invoke to deploy military troops in US states

The US President said he will “solve the problem” for governors if they do not “dominate the streets”.
Jun 2nd 2020, 2:20 PM 24,525 96

THE US PRESIDENT has said he will deploy the military unless state authorities take action to stop violence in protests across the country.

The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after he was pinned down by his neck by a white Minneapolis police officer. 

Last night President Donald Trump called on State governors to “dominate the streets” and announced he would deploy the US military to “quickly solve the problem for them” if they did not. 

This action would involve invoking a 213-year-old law: the 1807 Insurrection Act. 

What is the Insurrection Act?

The act governs the ability of the President to deploy military troops within the US to suppress civil disorder, insurrection and rebellion.

The original text, which has since been amended a number of times, states it is: “An Act authorising the employment of the land and naval forces of the United States, in cases of insurrections.”

The act was last used in 1992 by George Bush when riots broke out in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four white police officers on charges of beating black man Rodney King.

Then-governor Pete Wilson requested that the California National Guard be federalised to deal with the unrest. 

The National Guard is a military reserve force that generally responds to domestic emergencies. When federalised, a state’s National Guard is then funded by the federal government and comes under the control of the secretary of defence and the president, rather than the State governor. 

Request of a governor

There are questions about whether the president would have the authority to use this legislation to take this action to stop the protests without a request from the governor of a state.

So far, no governors have asked the government to send active duty troops to their states. They have instead relied on local police and National Guard soldiers. 

A 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service pointed out that the use of this legislation may still be allowed in certain cases without a request by a governor. 

Presidents Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy have both, in the past, invoked the act without receiving requests from affected states.

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Eisenhower did it in 1957 in Arkansas when segregationist councils attempted to prevent black students from entering Little Rock Central High School.

The governor of the state, Orval Faubus, sent the National Guard to support these segregationist protesters who were blocking the students.

In response, Eisenhower deployed federal troops to protect the nine students. He later federalised the Arkansas National Guard to take it out of the control of the State governor. 

Kennedy invoked the act twice . The first time was in 1962 during the Ole Miss riots at the University of Mississippi, which were sparked by attempts to block the enrolment of black Air Force veteran James Meredith in the college

Kennedy also used it in 1963 to enforce desegregation orders on Alabama public schools. Both times he did this without a request from the state governor. 

According to another report from the Congressional Research Service, before invoking the Insurrection Act, Trump would have to issue a proclamation  “ordering the insurgents to disperse within a limited time”.

If the situation is not resolved, the President can issue an executive order to send in troops, the report stated. 

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Michelle Hennessy


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