National Emergencies Do Not Expand Constitutional Power
Published August 27, 2020
During national emergencies, it is common for Congress and the presidency to increase their authority. However, the US Constitution sets certain limits on federal powers in order to protect the rights of individuals and states. These constitutional limitations prevent temporary violations from becoming permanent and keep leaders from cultivating emergencies in order to expand their authority.
- What are some examples of the federal government trying to expand its powers in times of emergency?
- What are the benefits of a federalist system (especially in times of national emergency)?
During times of national emergency, it is common for Congress and the presidency to increase their authority.
Which leads to an important question: Do the federal government’s constitutional powers expand in times of emergency?
The Constitution enumerates a limited number of federal powers. Only one of them explicitly expands in an emergency: the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended in time of rebellion or invasion. The remaining federal powers are firmly set within certain limits, so as not to infringe upon the rights reserved to individuals and states.
Moreover, the individual rights enumerated in the Constitution do not contain emergency exceptions.
Under our system of federalism, state governments retain the “police power” to regulate public health and safety under the tenth amendment.
But fortunately, that authority is limited by their own constitutions. In other words, individual rights can't be taken away.
Not only do constitutional limitations prevent temporary violations from becoming permanent; it also prevents leaders from kindling emergencies in order to expand their authority.