Declaration of Emergency

CLP Current Event: February 19, 2019

Is the US experiencing a national emergency? How does this affect rule of law and separation of powers? Learn more in this week’s CLP Current Event!

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

News Sources

California ‘definitely and imminently’ suing over Trump emergency declaration, state AG says, by William Cummings, USA Today, February 17, 2019
“But Democrats like Becerra do not believe conditions at the border constitute an emergency. ‘It’s clear that this isn’t an emergency – it’s clear that in the mind of Donald Trump he needs to do something to fulfill a campaign promise,’ Becerra said in an interview on ABC’s ‘This Week.’ The construction of a border wall has been a central issue for Trump since he first announced he was running for president in 2015.”

Key Takeaways From Trump’s Decision to Use a National Emergency to Build a Border Wall, by Michael Tackett, The New York Times, February 15, 2019
“The declaration enables Mr. Trump to divert $3.6 billion budgeted for military construction projects, and he will also tap into $2.5 billion from counternarcotics programs and $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund. All told, that leaves him with about $8 billion for the wall, including the $1.375 billion authorized by Congress in the spending package that averts a government shutdown.”

Donald Trump admits, ‘I didn’t need to’ declare a national emergency, says he’d just ‘rather do it much faster’, by Tim Marcin, Newsweek, February 15, 2019
“In the effort to build his wall, the emergency plan from Trump is reportedly set to take some $600 million from the Treasury Department, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s drug interdiction program and $3.5 billion from military construction funds.”

Trump’s emergency declaration is legal and needed to protect America – Here’s why, by Kayleigh McEnany, Fox News, February 15, 2019
“President Trump took bold and decisive action in the best interests of the American people when he declared a national emergency Friday to enable construction of a badly needed barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border to stymie human trafficking, drug trafficking and criminal crossings.”
CLP: Opinion

Mitch McConnell Backs Down to Donald Trump, Agrees to Support National Emergency Declaration, by Ramsey Touchberry, Newsweek, February 14, 2019
“McConnell said he is prepared to support the emergency declaration, which flies in the face of his supposed private warning to Trump against taking such action, as reported by The Washington Post. ‘I indicated to [Trump] I’m going to support the national emergency declaration,’ McConnell said. ‘So, for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill.’
Republicans previously told Newsweek they did not support a national emergency declaration by the president and suggested they would consider overriding Trump’s decision under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, possibly leading to a rift within the party.”

The Alarming Scope of the President’s Emergency Powers, by Elizabeth Goitein, The Atlantic, January/February 2019
“Aiming to rein in this proliferation, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act in 1976. Under this law, the president still has complete discretion to issue an emergency declaration—but he must specify in the declaration which powers he intends to use, issue public updates if he decides to invoke additional powers, and report to Congress on the government’s emergency-related expenditures every six months. The state of emergency expires after a year unless the president renews it, and the Senate and the House must meet every six months while the emergency is in effect “to consider a vote” on termination.”

Questions to Consider

  • What does emergency mean?
  • What is a national emergency?
  • Can the president declare a national emergency to build the wall?
  • Is there a national emergency in February 2019?
  • Is this a “Constitutional crisis”?
  • What is unilateral executive action?
  • What is the National Emergency Act?
  • When have national emergencies been declared?
  • Why is a national emergency declaration important?
  • What are “checks and balances” ? Is a declaration of national emergency an “end run” around Congress?
  • What might the Supreme Court do in a conflict between the Executive and Legislative branches?
  • What is the rule of law?
  • What is abuse of power?
  • What is unlocking federal dollars?
  • What are the legal challenges to an emergency declaration? Who might be injured? Is this a health safety and welfare issue?
  • Where might the money come from? Drug enforcement, military construction, aid for Puerto Rico?
  • What is a privileged motion and how might it be used to respond to a declaration of emergency?
  • What do supporters of this Declaration of Emergency say? What do opponents of this Declaration of Emergency say?
  • What do you consider a national emergency? Gun violence, climate changes, racist and religious hate, schools with large classes, decline of newspapers, drug use, economic inequality? What else might be considered an emergency?

Background and More

Presidents Have Declared Dozens of Emergencies, but None Like Trump’s, by Charlie Savage, The New York Times, February 15, 2019

Trump’s Face-Saving Way Out of Crisis Raises Fears Over Rule of Law, by Charlie Savage, The New York Times, February 14, 2019

Can the President declare a national emergency to build the wall?, National Constitution Center, January 10, 2019
CLP: Podcast

Yes, The President Can Declare A ‘National Emergency’ To Build A Wall, by David Welna, NPR, January 9, 2019

National Emergencies Act, Sections 201 and 301, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

Have All U.S. Presidents Since 1976 Declared National Emergencies?, Snopes

Lesson Plans

Teaching and Learning About Governmental Checks and Balances and the Trump Administration, by Michael Gonchar, The New York Times, February 16, 2017
CLP: High school

Separation of Powers: What’s for Lunch?, 5th Grade Integrated Social Studies Unit
CLP: 5th-8th grade

Branches of Power, iCivics

Constitutional and Legal Connections

Trump’s national emergency declaration could face challenges, by Grace Segers, CBS News, February 15, 2019

What Can Presidents Do If (They Claim) There’s An Emergency?, by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson, Fault Lines in the Constitution, February 11, 2019

Symposium: Trump v. Hawaii – Korematsu’s ghost and national-security masquerades, by Harold Hongju Koh, SCOTUSblog, June 28th, 2018

Oregon Connections

Oregon Lawmakers Concerned About National Emergency Declaration, by Meerah Powell, OPB, February 15, 2019

Oregon State Social Science Standards

.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
8.26 Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than one perspective.
HS.28 Evaluate how governments interact at the local, state, tribal, national, and global levels.
HS.27 Examine functions and process of United States government.
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.35 Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender and age), recognizing issues of equity, and evaluating need for change.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.

We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 6, Lesson 28: What is the relationship of the United States to other nations in the world?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 4: How have the values and principles embodied in the Constitution shaped American institutions and practices?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 37: What key challenges does the United States face in the future?