Under the Constitution and laws of the United States, the protection of life and property and the maintenance of public order are primarily the responsibilities of State and local governments, which have the necessary authority to enforce the laws. The Federal Government may assume this responsibility and this authority only in certain limited instances.
Aside from the constitutional limitations of the power of the Federal Government at the local level, there are additional legal limits upon the use of military forces within the United States. The most important of these from a civil disturbance standpoint is the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. 1385 ), which prohibits the use of any part of the Army or the Air Force to execute or enforce the laws, except as authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.
The Constitution and Acts of Congress establish six exceptions, generally applicable within the entire territory of the United States, to which the Posse Comitatus Act prohibition does not apply.
The constitutional exceptions are two in number and are based upon the inherent legal right of the U.S. Government—a sovereign national entity under the Federal Constitution—to insure the preservation of public order and the carrying out of governmental operations within its territorial limits, by force if necessary.
(i) The emergency authority.
Authorities prompt and vigorous Federal action, including use of military forces, to prevent loss of life or wanton destruction of property and to restore governmental functioning and public order when sudden and unexpected civil disturbances, disasters, or calamities seriously endanger life and property and disrupt normal governmental functions to such an extent that duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situations.
(ii) Protection of Federal property and functions.
Authorizes Federal action, including the use of military forces, to protect Federal property and Federal governmental functions when the need for protection exists and duly constituted local authorities are unable or decline to provide adequate protection.
There are four exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act based on Acts of Congress.
In the cases of each of the first three of those described, paragraphs (c)(2)(i) (a ), (b ), and (c) of this section, personal Presidential action, including the issuance of a proclamation calling upon insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably within a limited time, is a prerequisite.
(a) 10 U.S.C. 331. Authorizes use of the militia and Armed Forces when a State is unable to control domestic violence, and a request for Federal assistance has been made by the State legislature or governor to the President. Implements Article IV, section 4, of the Constitution.
(b) 10 U.S.C. 332. Authorizes use of the militia and Armed Forces to enforce Federal law when unlawful obstructions or rebellion against the authority of the United States renders ordinary enforcement means unworkable. Implements Article II, section 3, of the Constitution.
(c) 10 U.S.C. 333. Authorizes use of the militia and Armed Forces when domestic violence or conspiracy hinders execution of State or Federal law, and a State cannot or will not protect the constitutional rights of the citizens. Implements Article II, section 3, and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
(d) House Joint Resolution 1292, June 6, 1968. 1 Directs all departments of the Government, upon the request of the Secret Service, to assist that Service in carrying out its statutory duties to protect Government officials and major political candidates from physical harm. Assistance to the Secret Service is governed by DoD Directive 3025.13, “Employment of Department of Defense Resources in Support of the United States Secret Service,” July 15, 1968. 2
1 Although this resolution has been placed in the Statutes at Large as Public Law 90-331, 82 Stat. 170, it has not been codified; it is set out in the notes to
18 U.S.C. 3056
2 Filed as part of original copies available from U.S. Naval Publications and Forms Center, 5801 Tabor Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19120, Code: 300.
It should be noted that none of the above authorities, in and of itself, provides sufficient legal basis to order members of the Reserve components to active Federal service.