As Trump Turns to a National Emergency, the Media Turns to William C. Banks

President Donald J. Trump has made it known that he would declare a “national emergency” at the US/Mexico border in order to secure funds to build a southern border wall, an effort to augment funds that Congress has appropriated for border security in a bill that the president is expected to sign.

It turns out it’s going to be quite the tricky fight for Trump should he decide to actually declare a national emergency solely to get the border wall built.

The national emergency declaration would be unusual in this case, as the southern border crisis lacks the immediacy of a catastrophe such as Sept. 11, 2001. The declaration also may be unconstitutional, and it probably will be challenged in the courts. National security expert Professor Emeritus William C. Banks has been in demand by top media outlets to explain the what, why, when, and how of declaring a national emergency.

Trump wants the military to build the border wall. It might not be legal.

(Vox | Feb. 14, 2019) After months of back-and-forth with Congress, President Donald Trump is expected to soon declare a national emergency in order for the US military to construct the southern border wall he’s promised for years.

But there’s a pretty big problem with that, according to experts — namely, that he has a very weak legal case, and there’s strong political opposition to making that happen.

Set aside the fact that Trump’s own administration doesn’t assess that there is a massive national security problem at the US-Mexico border. Trump believes there is, and he plans to take extraordinary measures to keep asylum seekers out of the country.

William Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, helped me understand what to expect in the days ahead.

It turns out it’s going to be quite the tricky fight for Trump should he decide to actually declare a national emergency solely to get the border wall built.

The key law in question is the appropriately named “Construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or national emergency.” Here’s what it says:

In the event of a declaration of war or the declaration by the President of a national emergency in accordance with the National Emergencies Act that requires use of the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense, without regard to any other provision of law, may undertake military construction projects, and may authorize the Secretaries of the military departments to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces. Such projects may be undertaken only within the total amount of funds that have been appropriated for military construction, including funds appropriated for family housing, that have not been obligated …

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SEE ALSO …

Trump’s national emergency and GOP senators (CNN | Feb. 19, 2019)

State of Chaos: What Comes Next for Mueller and for Trump’s “Emergency”? (On Topic with Renato Mariotti | Feb. 16, 2019)

Prof. Bill Banks interviewed by KCBS Radio (Feb. 16, 2019)

Trump declares U.S.-Mexico border emergency; Democrats protest (Reuters | Feb. 15, 2019)

Trump’s national emergency to contend with lawsuits (China Daily | Feb. 18, 2019)

Trump’s Face-Saving Way Out of Crisis Raises Fears Over Rule of Law (The New York Times | Feb. 14, 2019)

National Emergency Powers and Trump’s Border Wall, Explained (The New York Times | Jan. 7, 2019)

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William C. Banks Authors OpEd on Southern Border Crisis for Newsday

Opinion: Declaration would defy Congress and abuse power

By William C. Banks

(Newsday | Feb. 10, 2019) President Donald Trump has described the congressional negotiations over his request for $5.7 billion to fund a Southern border wall as a “waste of time.”

Intended to stop the practice of endless states of emergency, the law gave them new life. Today, there are 28 national emergencies, renewed for decades by presidents.

He has repeatedly insisted that he can and will build the wall after declaring a national emergency at the border. If the president proceeds, he will undermine the role of Congress in our constitutional system and make a mockery of the uses of this extraordinary emergency power as exercised by modern presidents.

Rhetoric and politics aside, consider a dispassionate assessment of what the law permits. In the end, Congress may already have given Trump the authority he needs to build his wall.

The president exercises whatever powers he has from the Constitution or an act of Congress. The Constitution does not confer any general emergency powers, and only permits suspending the writ of habeas corpus “when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” When it comes to appropriating public funds, the Constitution anchors the power in Congress. The Congress appropriates funds, and the president spends them.

Historically, Congress provided generous statutory authorities that allow the president to act and spend in circumstances that rise to the level of national emergency. By 1973, there were more than 470 such laws, most of them vestiges of bygone crises. In a stroke of Watergate-era good government, Congress enacted the National Emergencies Act in 1976 to repeal all emergency laws and create procedures for future presidents to act responsibly in a crisis. However, while enacted with the best of intentions to rein in misuse of presidential emergency powers, the law has, in a backhanded way, enabled considerable presidential initiatives.

The National Emergencies Act requires presidents to specify the statutory authorities they intend to use after declaring a national emergency, make public notice of the emergency declaration and renew such authorities annually in writing to Congress. However, the law requires Congress to act (with a two-thirds majority to overcome a presidential veto) to terminate a declared emergency and allows declared emergencies to be renewed annually by the president.

Intended to stop the practice of endless states of emergency, the law gave them new life. Today, there are 28 national emergencies, renewed for decades by presidents, supported by 136 statutes the president can invoke after an emergency declaration. Congress has never attempted to terminate an emergency declared pursuant to the National Emergencies Act.

Nor are there criteria to guide or limit the president in deciding what constitutes a national emergency. Could Trump declare a national emergency at the Southern border? Yes, unquestionably. Could he then find the funds from among the 136 statutes to order construction of the wall? Yes, arguably …

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William C. Banks Speaks to TIME About the Southern Border Crisis

The Migrants Who Were on TIME’s Cover Will Attend the State of the Union

(TIME | Feb. 5, 2019) Lawmakers have long used their plus-one invitations to the annual State of the Union address to send political messages to the President, and this year is no different. Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren invited federal workers who saw their paychecks delayed as a result of the longest shutdown in government history. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asked a Navy Lieutenant Commander impacted by President Donald Trump’s transgender troop ban. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar will bring a mother whose son died as a result of not being able to afford insulin critical for treatment of his Type 1 diabetes, a tragedy the Minnesotan lawmaker blames on insurance regulations and skyrocketing prescription costs.

“The heads of our intelligence agencies released their Worldwide Threat Assessment last week and reviewed a significant set of risks and challenges confronting the national security. The southern border and migration were not on the list.”

But no issue is closer to Trump’s political persona — or his future political prospects — than security at the southern border and Sen. Jeff Merkley’s choice of guests, Albertina and Yaquelin Contreras, a mother and daughter who were separated for nearly six weeks by U.S. authorities in 2018, is a full-throated indictment of the President’s tactics on that front.

“I’m bringing Albertina and [Yaquelin] as my guests to the State of the Union because we need to bear witness to the suffering that this cruel policy inflicted, and resolve to make sure that nothing like this ever happens in the United States of America again,” the Oregon Democrat said in a press release that was sharply critical of the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance policy. Formally announced last April, the policy has resulted in thousands of migrant children, including toddlers, being forcibly separated, sometimes indefinitely, from their parents at the southern border …

… But government records indicate that those actually arriving at border posts and presenting themselves to Border Patrol agents overwhelmingly look like Albertina and Yaquelin. According to the U.S. government, a significant proportion of the migrants who have attempted to enter along the southern border in recent months are children and families fleeing violence, rape, and hunger in Central America. In Fiscal Year 2018, 159,590 migrants filed for asylum — a 274% increase over 2008’s figure. Meanwhile, however, officials at the border made nearly 70% fewer total border apprehensions in 2018 than they did in 2000.

“Most experts agree that there is no crisis at the southern border,” William Banks, an international security expert and law professor at Syracuse University, recently told me in an interview. “Indeed, the heads of our intelligence agencies released their Worldwide Threat Assessment [last] week and reviewed a significant set of risks and challenges confronting the national security. The southern border and migration were not on the list” …

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Cronkite News Discusses a “National Emergency” with William C. Banks

Experts give 4 reasons why Trump can’t declare a national emergency to build a wall

(Cronkite News/Arizona PBS | Feb. 5, 2019) President Donald Trump has hinted there’s a “good chance” he will declare a national emergency at the southern border during his State of the Union address Tuesday in order to build a wall.

“(The border) is a civilian operation,” Banks said. “We don’t mix law enforcement and the military here in the U.S.”

Experts, however, believe there are obstacles to using a national emergency to build a wall, which Trump has promised since he entered the race for the presidency in 2015.

Cronkite News reached out to Liza Goitein, a co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington, D.C., and William Banks, a professor emeritus of law and the founding director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University. Both also appeared at a Jan. 16 panel discussion hosted by the Brennan Center about presidential emergency powers …

No. 3: Troops can only construct something for military purposes

Trump also has deployed active-duty troops to the border twice since late October, and part of their duties has been to fortify existing barriers. However, Banks said there are too many limitations for him to simply order a wall built by the military without congressional approval or appropriated funds.

“Military-construction authorities allow him to reallocate some authorized funds … but only for a military purpose,” Banks said. The president can only use Pentagon funds and can’t divert money from other U.S. appropriations, he said.

If the president were to unlock these military dollars by declaring a national emergency, Banks said “it might work.” He described how the Army Corp of Engineers would be the agency designing and building the wall, but the president has to persuade the courts in any legal challenge that the construction is for a military installation, which Banks called “a bit of a reach.”

“(The border) is a civilian operation,” Banks said. “We don’t mix law enforcement and the military here in the U.S.”

Senate Democrats introduced legislation Monday to block the president from using those same military funds “for the construction of barriers, land acquisition, or any other associated activities on the southern border without specific statutory authorization from Congress” …

Experts give 4 reasons why Trump can’t declare a national emergency to build a wall

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Video: Brennan Center Symposium on Emergency Powers

Symposium on Presidential Emergency Powers: Legal Overview

(C-Span | Jan 18, 2019) On Jan. 9, 2019, the Brennan Center for Justice and the R Street Institute hosted a symposium in Washington, DC, to consider the history, application and scope of presidential emergency powers.

This portion of the symposium featured legal and policy experts—including INSCT Founding Director William C. Banks—who provided an overview of the range of executive powers that could be used by the president.

The Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program Director Liza Goitein also addressed President Trump’s potential application of emergency powers to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Emergency Powers

 

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China Daily Asks William C. Banks About “Trump’s Wall”

(China Daily | Jan. 9, 2019) The divide between the US administration and congressional Democrats on funding a border wall was laid bare before a national audience who followed President Donald Trump’s first televised Oval Office address and a rebuttal from two congressional leaders on Tuesday night.

“The president’s legal arguments are contentious and may be wrong.”

The speech was made at a time when the partial government shutdown headed into a third week over the budget standoff between the president and Congress.

Analysts said the impasse is going to linger, though both sides have agreed to continue talking.

In his nine-minute national address, Trump laid out his case for the wall on the southern border with Mexico, which he said is laden with “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” …

… William C. Banks, a law professor of Syracuse University College of Law, also said Trump is likely to rely on authority provided by Congress in the National Emergencies Act (1976) to declare a national emergency at the southern border, then rely on military construction statutes that may enable him to spend for wall construction without a new appropriation for that purpose.

“The president’s legal arguments are contentious and may be wrong, based on the above authorities. Congress could stop him by passing a law saying no funding for a wall, or they could limit the funds available,” he told China Daily in an email.

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William C. Banks Discusses Limits to Emergency Powers with LA Times

Supreme Court has placed limits on presidential emergency powers, but that may not stop Trump

(Los Angeles Times | Jan. 9, 2019) More than a half century ago, the Supreme Court in one of its most famous decisions boldly put a check on executive power, one that has been cited repeatedly as proof the president cannot declare a national emergency to bypass Congress.

“Factually it is ludicrous to claim this is a national emergency, but who would have standing to challenge it?”

Many legal experts, however, say they are not confident the Constitution and the courts would stand in the way if President Trump were to declare a national emergency to fund a wall on the southern border. At issue is not the definition of an emergency, but the many expansions of presidential power written into law by Congress in recent decades.

When President Truman issued an order to seize control of the steel mills, no one questioned that the nation faced a true emergency. American troops had been pushed back in Korea, and a pending strike in the steel industry “would immediately jeopardize and imperil our national defense” and endanger “our soldiers, sailors and airmen engaged in combat in the field,” he declared in 1952.

But the high court stood firm and ruled the president did not have the power, acting on his own, to order the steel mills to keep running …

… Moreover, bringing a lawsuit in court requires an injured plaintiff who has standing. And the court has ruled that neither lawmakers nor taxpayers have standing to sue over how the government spends money.

“Factually it is ludicrous to claim this is a national emergency, but who would have standing to challenge it?” said Syracuse law professor William Banks. “It could be a property owner who says his land has been diminished in value.” If so, however, such a case may take time to develop.

It is not clear that the Supreme Court will be willing to take up such a dispute or stand in the way of the president.

In 1952, all the justices were Democratic appointees, but the 6-3 majority rebuked the actions of a Democratic president.

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State of Emergency: William C. Banks Guests on Renato Mariotti’s On Topic Podcast

State of Emergency: As the “Wall” Fight Looms, Has the Mueller Investigation Moved to its Final Stage?

(On Topic | Jan. 10, 2019) Renato and Patti discuss the president’s “emergency” powers, including the limits of those powers, how they can be challenged, and how they should be reformed, with Syracuse Law Professor William C. Banks. They also speak at length with MSNBC Legal Analyst Mimi Rocah about many recent developments in the Mueller investigation, including the revelation that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort provided private polling data to a Russian intelligence operative.

Visit the podcast webpage.

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Corri Zoli Analyzes Immigration Debate on WAER

SU National Security Researcher Takes Fact-Based Approach to Charged Immigration Debate

(WAER | Jan. 8, 2019) A Syracuse University researcher is trying to take the politics and emotions out of illegal immigration and border security, even with the president’s address to the nation Tuesday evening. Dr. Corri Zoli is Director of Research at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism. She says the political dynamics on both sides are counter-productive to arriving at a more permanent solution for the southern border.

“We’re seeing right now a real spike in unaccompanied minors and children essentially being dragged across the border.”

“If Congress had done a better job at clarifying immigration rules, laws, and statutes, which have been in need of reform for the last decade plus, then we wouldn’t have this level of resorting to politicizing this issue because it would be clarified in the law.”

So, Zoli says what we’re left with is a largely unsecured border that leads to a legal, humanitarian, and resource crisis. She says Department of Homeland Security data show tens of thousands of people affiliated with drug and human trafficking cartels are penetrating the border every year.

“We’re seeing right now a real spike in unaccompanied minors and children essentially being dragged across the border. Why are they doing that? Because the complexities of our law create incentives for traffickers to have a child with them” …

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William C. Banks Contributes to The New York Times’ Emergency Powers Explainer

Trump’s National Emergency Powers and Border Wall, Explained

(The New York Times | Jan. 7, 2018) As the budget standoff between President Trump and congressional Democrats grinds into the third week of a partial government shutdown, the White House has floated the idea that Mr. Trump might invoke emergency powers to build his proposed wall on the Mexican border without lawmakers’ approval.

“The fundamental principle is that no president or official may spend funds that were not appropriated for that purpose.”

That route could resolve the immediate crisis by giving Mr. Trump a face-saving way to sign spending bills that do not include funding for his wall. But it would be an extraordinarily aggressive move — at a minimum, a violation of constitutional norms — that would most likely thrust the wall’s fate into the courts. Here is a primer on whether Mr. Trump can use emergency powers to proceed with the project without explicit congressional permission.

What are emergency powers?

The president has the authority to declare a national emergency, which activates enhancements to his executive powers by essentially creating exceptions to rules that normally constrain him. The idea is to enable the government to respond quickly to a crisis.

Although presidents have sometimes claimed that the Constitution gives them inherent powers to act beyond ordinary legal limits in an exigency, those claims tend to fare poorly when challenged in court.

But presidents are on firmer legal ground when they invoke statutes in which Congress delegated authorities to the executive branch that can be generated in emergencies. In a recent study, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law identified 123 provisions of law granting presidents a range of such powers.

The National Emergencies Act, enacted during the post-Watergate reform era, regulates how presidents may invoke such powers. It requires them to formally declare a national emergency and tell Congress which statutes are being activated …

… In light of those statutes and similar ones that give presidents flexibility to redirect funds in a crisis, the Trump administration could point to serious arguments to back up Mr. Trump if he invokes emergency powers to build a wall, said William C. Banks, a Syracuse University law professor who helped write a 1994 book about tensions between the executive and legislative branches over security and spending, “National Security Law and the Power of the Purse.”

“The fundamental principle is that no president or official may spend funds that were not appropriated for that purpose,” he said. “But I think that it’s possible that the president could declare a national emergency and then rely on authority Congress has historically granted for exigencies to free up some funds to support constructing a barrier along the border” …

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