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The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters - The Use of the Military to Execute Civilian Law

The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters - The Use of the Military to Execute Civilian Law

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CRS Report for Congress
 Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters:The Use of the Military to ExecuteCivilian Law
Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist in American Public Law
Jennifer K. Elsea
Legislative AttorneyAugust 16, 2012
Congressional Research Service
7-5700www.crs.govR42659
 
The Posse Comitatus Act and Related MattersCongressional Research Service
Summary
The Constitution permits Congress to authorize the use of the militia “to execute the Laws of theUnion, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” And it guarantees the states protection againstinvasion or usurpation of their “republican form of government,” and, upon the request of thestate legislature, against “domestic violence.” These constitutional provisions are reflected in theInsurrection Acts, which have been invoked numerous times both before and after passage of thePosse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1385, in 1878. Congress has also enacted a number of statutesthat authorize the use of the land and naval forces to execute their objective.The Posse Comitatus Act outlaws the willful use of any part of the Army or Air Force to executethe law unless expressly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. History suppliesthe grist for an argument that the Constitution prohibits military involvement in civilian affairssubject to only limited alterations by Congress or the President, but the courts do not appear tohave ever accepted the argument unless violation of more explicit constitutional command couldalso be shown. The express statutory exceptions include the legislation that allows the Presidentto use military force to suppress insurrection or to enforce federal authority, 10 U.S.C. §§ 331-335, and laws that permit the Department of Defense to provide federal, state and local policewith information, equipment, and personnel, 10 U.S.C. §§ 371-382.Case law indicates that “execution of the law” in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act occurs (a)when the Armed Forces perform tasks assigned to an organ of civil government, or (b) when theArmed Forces perform tasks assigned to them solely for purposes of civilian government.Questions concerning the act’s application arise most often in the context of assistance to civilian police. At least in this context, the courts have held that, absent a recognized exception, the PosseComitatus Act is violated when (1) civilian law enforcement officials make “direct active use” of military investigators; or (2) the use of the military “pervades the activities” of the civilianofficials; or (3) the military is used so as to subject “citizens to the exercise of military power which was regulatory, prescriptive, or compulsory in nature.” The act is not violated when theArmed Forces conduct activities for a military purpose.The language of the act mentions only the Army and the Air Force, but it is applicable to the Navy and Marines by virtue of administrative action and commands of other laws. The lawenforcement functions of the Coast Guard have been expressly authorized by act of Congress andconsequently cannot be said to be contrary to the act. The act has been applied to the NationalGuard when it is in federal service, to civilian employees of the Armed Forces, and to off-dutymilitary personnel. The act probably only applies within the geographical confines of the UnitedStates, but the supplemental provisions of 10 U.S.C. §§ 371-382 appear to apply worldwide.Finally, the act is a criminal statute under which there has been but a handful of known prosecutions. Although violations will on rare occasions result in the exclusion of evidence, thedismissal of criminal charges, or a civil cause of action, as a practical matter compliance isordinarily the result of military self-restraint.This report provides an historical analysis of the use of the Armed Forces to execute domestic lawand of the Posse Comitatus Act, including their apparent theoretical and constitutionalunderpinnings. The report then outlines the current application of the act as well as its statutoryexceptions, and reviews the consequences of its violation. This report appears in abridged form asCRS Report RS20590,
The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters: A Sketch
.
 
The Posse Comitatus Act and Related MattersCongressional Research Service
Contents
Introduction......................................................................................................................................1
 
Background......................................................................................................................................2
 
The Use of Federal Troops Prior to 1878........................................................................................5
 
The Insurrection Act and Other Statutes....................................................................................6
 
Resistance to Taxes and Duties...........................................................................................8
 
 Neutrality Act Enforcement................................................................................................9
 
Requests from States for Military Aid...............................................................................10
 
Trouble in the Western States and Territories....................................................................13
 
Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.......................................................................14
 
Use of Military Forces as a Posse Comitatus..........................................................................15
 
Passage of the Posse Comitatus Act..............................................................................................19
 
Constitutional Considerations........................................................................................................21
 
Constitutional Origins.............................................................................................................21
 
Presidential vs. Congressional Powers....................................................................................24
 
Constitutional Exceptions........................................................................................................26
 
When the Posse Comitatus Act Does Not Apply...........................................................................29
 
Statutory Exceptions................................................................................................................29
 
Generally...........................................................................................................................29
 
The Insurrection Acts........................................................................................................32
 
Support to Law Enforcement............................................................................................41
 
Military Purpose......................................................................................................................46
 
Coverage of the Posse Comitatus Act............................................................................................52
 
Willful Use..............................................................................................................................52
 
Execute the Law......................................................................................................................53
 
Military Coverage....................................................................................................................56
 
 Navy & Marines................................................................................................................56
 
Coast Guard.......................................................................................................................57
 
 National Guard..................................................................................................................58
 
Off Duty Military, Acting as Citizens & Civilian Employees...........................................59
 
Geographical Application........................................................................................................61
 
Consequences of Violation............................................................................................................62
 
Prosecution..............................................................................................................................62
 
Exclusion of Evidence.............................................................................................................63
 
Jurisdiction & Criminal Defenses............................................................................................64
 
Civil Liability..........................................................................................................................65
 
Compliance....................................................................................................................................65
 
Contacts
Author Contact Information...........................................................................................................66
 

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