The Posse Comitatas [sic] Act of 1878 forbids the President from using the US military to enforce the law without an Act of Congress. Posse comitatus, or "all possible force," refers to the power of a sheriff to call upon every able-bodied man in his county to help apprehend a criminal. (The things you learn from watching old Westerns...) The President can not similarly use "all possible force" to enforce the law, because doing so would be equivalent to declaring martial law in the United States.Is this what the Left really thought Bush should have done? Or was the unending stream of condemnation just political posturing?
Exceptions to the law, aside from suppressing insurrections, include assisting drug enforcement agencies or during emergencies involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), there is no exception for a local or state government failing to respond properly to a crisis. State and local officials failed to evacuate the citizens, declined to quell the looting and other crimes being committed, and even refused permission for the Red Cross to bring food and water to the people packed into the Superdome and Convention Center. The Red Cross explains on their web site that "The state Homeland Security Department had requested... that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city." Without the governor's permission to act, the federal government was effectively hamstrung.
Louisiana Governor Kathy Blanco could have requested federal help, but would not sign the authorization to allow it, even after the situation had descended into total chaos. "Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans," the Washington Post reported. "The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law." Governor Blanco decided to maintain final authority over the situation in New Orleans. With that authority comes responsibility for the results -- good or bad.
Every person who complains because the federal government did not take control of the New Orleans situation -- despite the governor's refusal to give permission -- is advocating a far more powerful federal government than we should ever want. The burden of response to local disasters rests on local elected officials while they choose to retain their authority. The federal government cannot intervene unless specifically requested to do so. To suggest otherwise is to invite a military dictatorship.
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