Elizabeth Goitein and Joseph Nunn argue that the Insurrection Act is one of the most powerful and wide-ranging authorities available to the President of the United States. The Act authorizes the president to deploy US armed forces and the militia to suppress insurrections, quell civil unrest and domestic violence, and otherwise enforce the law in the face of obstruction. However, despite the wide-reaching powers it grants, the criteria set forth in the Act for its utilization does little in the way of imposing any meaningful constraints.
Compounding the problem is the fact that neither Congress nor the courts share any responsibility for the invocation of the Act—Congress has neither oversight nor approval, and courts have proved reluctant to question the president’s judgment on the deployment of troops in domestic emergencies. The Act therefore functions outside of the fundamental system of checks and balances, increasing the danger that the Act will be invoked without sufficient grounds.
While previous invocations of the Act protected marginalized communities, recent events—particularly the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol—have raised concerns about under what circumstances the Insurrection Act may be invoked, and against whom. The authors trace the history of the Insurrection Act from the early days of the country to the present, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, and particularly highlighting its potential for abuse. They also detail a proposal for reforming the Insurrection Act, modifying it in a way that would better comply with American democratic ideals.
January 6, 2021, was supposed to be the day that Joe Biden became the congressionally certified winner of the 2020 presidential election. Instead, January 6 will be remembered as the day a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. As the mob easily overcame inadequate security, members of Congress and staff feared for their lives.
By any measure, January 6 was a day like no other in American history. The assault on the Capitol attempted to obstruct and thwart one of the fundamentals of our democracy – the peaceful transition of leadership from one elected President to the next. There can be no more direct and significant threat to our national security.
The unprecedented assault on our democracy and the rule of law prompted JNSLP to reach out to our distinguished editorial board. We asked that some of them prepare succinct reactions to January 6 and its significance for our nation. The response from the board was gratifying.
The 10 essays that follow represent a diverse range of opinions and analysis, highly appropriate for an interdisciplinary board of scholars and practitioners. What the essays share, however, is a uniform repulsion at the events of January 6 and the direct threat to our governance that the mob represented.
William C. Banks
January 25, 2021
By Emily Berman
There are many indisputable facts about violent and deadly incursion into the Capitol building on January 6th. It is beyond debate that the fiasco included multiple criminal acts. Nor is there any question that it represents a colossal security failure on the part of those whose mission is to safeguard the premises and the people inside.
Finally, as many observers have noted, the differential treatment afforded to the largely White crowd of President Donald Trump’s supporters compared to the Black Lives Matter protestors who took to the streets this summer to protest acts of police violence against Black individuals was, to say the least, stark. Each of these facts—the criminal acts, the security failure, and the differential treatment afforded to those protesting—demand thorough investigation and a vigorous response. But that response need not—indeed must not—include measures that ultimately repress peaceful protest and restrict the right to assembly for Americans of all political stripes …