Conservative acquiescence to the growth of executive power comes home to roost in Trump.
It was 2002 and officials in George W. Bush’s administration were weighing a tricky question: Should they use the American military to break up a suspected cell of al-Qaeda collaborators — not in Helmand Province, but in Lackawanna, N.Y.?
The answer should have been a firm “no.” The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids the federal government from deploying troops on American soil (with an exemption for the National Guard). But advocates of boots near Buffalo had a fig leaf: a Justice Department memo from late 2001 that granted the president latitudinous authority against domestic terrorists. They also had a powerful advocate in Vice President Dick Cheney.
President Bush ultimately overrode Cheney and sent in the FBI, but it wasn’t the last time his administration would hold a candle too close to posse comitatus law. Following Hurricane Katrina, Bush asked Congress to pass legislation allowing the military on American soil in the aftermath of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
The principle behind the Posse Comitatus Act is a sound one: The military is a wartime instrument free from many legal constraints, while law enforcement is charged with policing the homeland — mix the two and you have a recipe for domestic tyranny. To illustrate, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: The public elects as president a mercurial man-child who possesses enormous self-regard, acts almost entirely on caprice, and has contempt for the rule of law. We’ll even complete the banana-republic imagery by giving him ridiculous hair.
Aren’t we better off knowing our imaginary potentate can’t deploy the military to Lackawanna or Los Angeles? And shouldn’t we avoid setting such a precedent?Read the rest of this National Review op-ed HERE.
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