Queen Elizabeth II (or I, if you’re Scottish) is one of the most powerful people in the world. She can dissolve Parliament on a whim, declare war, revoke passports, and commit just about any act that would be a crime to anyone else with no consequences.
This may surprise you, given that she never does any of these things. Yet the main reason why the monarch of the UK still holds all these powers, what with the Magna Carta and Commonwealth and other historical tidbits, is a simple one. She absolutely never uses them. If she did, you can bet the UK would become a Republic faster than you could sing, “Rule, Britannia.”
This may seem like a rhetorical point, even with Brexit turning far further South than the Treaty of Rome ever enabled. But we’re about to see this principle in action. Not in the UK, but here in the US.
The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is one of those things which seems like a good idea. It has actually been used 57 times for various reasons, some of which are still in force. It is invoked with a simple executive order, and it remains in place until it is rescinded. These events include the war in Macedonia, for example, and violations of the Dayton Peace accord brokered by President Clinton.
The Act gives the President broad powers to do many things, including suspend some rights and to spend some money not directly allocated. Every time it is invoked it is supposed to be reviewed by Congress. But of course, we all know how easily oversight slouches into overlooking.
Here is a list of the emergency powers currently in place, stolen directly from Wikipedia.
|Carter||14-Nov-79||Blocking Iranian Government Property (Executive Order 12170) – After the Iran hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter issued an order freezing all Iranian assets in the U.S.|
|Clinton||14-Nov-94||Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Executive Order 12938) – Provides for control over the export of weapons; combined two previous national emergencies regarding WMDs.|
|Clinton||23-Jan-95||Prohibiting Transactions With Terrorists Who Threaten To Disrupt the Middle East Peace Process (Executive Order 12947) – Imposed economic sanctions on Specially Designated Terrorists, including the ANO, Hezbollah, the DFLP, Hamas, and the PFLP.|
|Clinton||15-Mar-95||Prohibiting Certain Transactions with Respect to the Development of Iranian Petroleum Resources (Executive Order 12957) – Intended to prevent a business deal between Iran and Conoco.|
|Clinton||21-Oct-95||Blocking Assets and Prohibiting Transactions with Significant Narcotics Traffickers (Executive Order 12978) – Declared in response to Colombian drug cartels using American companies to launder money.|
|Clinton||1-Mar-96||Declaration of a National Emergency and Invocation of Emergency Authority Relating to the Regulation of the Anchorage and Movement of Vessels (Proclamation 6867) – Implemented following the destruction of two civilian aircraft by the Cuban military on 24 February 1996.|
|Clinton||3-Nov-97||Blocking Sudanese Government Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Sudan (Executive Order 13067) – Established a trade embargo against Sudan, specifically targeting the Sudanese government.|
|Bush||26-Jun-01||Blocking Property of Persons Who Threaten International Stabilization Efforts in the Western Balkans (Executive Order 13219) – Intended to combat extremist Albanian insurgents operating in Macedonia and limit obstruction of the Dayton Accords. Amended on May 28, 2003 (Executive Order 13304) following the Ohrid Agreement, signed in 2001.|
|Bush||17-Aug-01||Continuation of Export Control Regulations (Executive Order 13222) – Reasserted presidential control of exports of “defense articles” following the expiration of the Export Administration Act of 1979 in 1994.Amended on March 8, 2013 (Executive Order 13637) to delegate authority provided by Section 38 of the Arms Export Control Act from the president to the Secretary of State.|
|Bush||14-Sep-01||Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks (Proclamation 7463) – The first of two national emergencies declared following the September 11 attacks, allowing the president to call troops from the National Guard or from retirement, to apportion military funding, to exercise more discretion over hiring military officers, and to promote more generals than previously allowed.|
|Bush||23-Sep-01||Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten To Commit, or Support Terrorism (Executive Order 13224) – The second of two national emergencies declared following the September 11 attacks, allowing the State and Treasury departments (through the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control) to designate entities as terrorists and apply economic sanctions. Due to the order’s broad language, its scope has grown over the years to become one of the Treasury’s “cornerstone sanctions programs” in fighting terrorism worldwide. Amended on July 2, 2002 (Executive Order 13268) to include the Taliban, and on January 23, 2003 (Executive Order 13284) to integrate the newly-created position of Secretary of Homeland Security into the order’s process.|
|Bush||6-Mar-03||Blocking Property of Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Zimbabwe (Executive Order 13288) – Imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and 76 other government officials following years of rigged elections and a recent food shortage, echoing similar sanctions imposed the previous year by the European Union. Amended on November 22, 2005 (Executive Order 13391) to revise the EO’s annex listing the individuals targeted with sanctions.|
|Bush||22-May-03||Protecting the Development Fund for Iraq and Certain Other Property in Which Iraq Has an Interest (Executive Order 13303) – Granted the Development Fund for Iraq, established the same day, legal protection in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and amidst the Iraq War.|
|Bush||11-May-04||Blocking Property of Certain Persons and Prohibiting the Export of Certain Goods to Syria (Executive Order 13338) – Imposed mostly symbolic economic sanctions on Syria, grounding all flights between the two countries, banning all exports to Syria but food and medicine, and freezing some Syrians’ assets.|
|Bush||16-Jun-06||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus (Executive Order 13405) – Imposed sanctions, including a travel ban, on Alexander Lukashenko after Belarus’s crackdown on peaceful protests against the recent presidential election and following similar sanctions by the European Union.|
|Bush||27-Oct-06||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Executive Order 13413) – Imposed economic sanctions on DRC government officials amidst widespread violence taking place during runoffs for Congo’s first free election in decades.|
|Bush||1-Aug-07||Blocking Property of Persons Undermining the Sovereignty of Lebanon or Its Democratic Processes and Institutions (Executive Order 13441) – Imposed sanctions intended as a warning to Syria and Hezbollah, months after a similar travel ban, during widespread unrest in the country, and out of concern over rifts between prime minister Fouad Siniora and president Émile Lahoud.|
|Bush||26-Jun-08||Continuing Certain Restrictions With Respect to North Korea and North Korean Nationals (Executive Order 13466) – Retained “certain restrictions” on North Korea as the United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and as North Korea publicly declared its nuclear program.|
|Obama||12-Apr-10||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in Somalia (Executive Order 13536) – Intended to help combat Somali pirates.|
|Obama||25-Feb-11||Blocking Property and Prohibiting Certain Transactions Related to Libya (Executive Order 13566) – Imposed sanctions on Muammar Gaddafi, his family, and Libyan officials after protestors were killed by government forces, including freezing assets and consideration of prosecution for war crimes.|
|Obama||24-Jul-11||Blocking Property of Transnational Criminal Organizations (Executive Order 13581) – Levied sanctions against four criminal organizations–Los Zetas, the Brothers’ Circle, the Yakuza, and the Camorra–including freezing assets, barring ownership of American real estate, and implementing travel bans.|
|Obama||16-May-12||Blocking Property of Persons Threatening the Peace, Security, or Stability of Yemen (Executive Order 13611) – Intended to counter unrest in Yemen in the aftermath of the Yemeni Revolution.|
|Obama||6-Mar-14||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine (Executive Order 13660) – Imposed sanctions, including restricting visas, in concert with the European Union and the international community against Russia after its invasion and occupation of Crimea. Amended on 16 March 2014 (Executive Order 13661), 20 March 2014 (Executive Order 13662), and 19 December 2014 (Executive Order 13685) to expand the scope of sanctions.|
|Obama||3-Apr-14||Blocking Property of Certain Persons With Respect to South Sudan (Executive Order 13664) – Enabled economic sanctions to be placed due to the civil war in South Sudan; sanctions were first imposed a month later.|
|Obama||12-May-14||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in the Central African Republic (Executive Order 13667) – Imposed sanctions against former Central African Republic president François Bozizé, following similar sanctions placed on Bozizé by the United Nations Security Council the previous week; also contains provisions against the use of child soldiers.|
|Obama||8-Mar-15||Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela (Executive Order 13692) – Imposed sanctions on seven high-ranking Venezuelan government officials, including SEBIN director Gustavo Enrique González López, PNB director Manuel Perez, and CVG head Justo Noguero.|
|Obama||1-Apr-15||Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities (Executive Order 13694) – Intended to allow sanctions to be levied on foreign individuals determined by the Department of the Treasury to have engaged in cyber-crime or cyber-terrorism; was in the works for two years.|
|Obama||22-Nov-15||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Burundi (Executive Order 13712) – Imposed sanctions on four Burundi nationals – minister of public security Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, National Police of Burundi deputy director-general Godefroid Bizimana, Godefroid Niyombare, and Cyrille Ndayirukiye – in the wake of widespread unrest.|
|Trump||20-Dec-17||Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption (Executive Order 13818) – Imposed sanctions due to the Rohingya conflict in Myanmar, specifically against general Maung Maung Soe; works in tandem with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.|
|Trump||12-Sep-18||Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election (Executive Order 13848) – Intended to enable automatic sanctions in response to election interference;intelligence agencies are given 45 days after an election to assess any possible interference.|
|Trump||27-Nov-18||Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Nicaragua (Executive Order 13851) – Announces certain sanctions against current and former Daniel Ortega government officials engaging in “human rights abuse or corruption.”|
Note that most of these are related to the seizure of property belonging to people who are actively opposing US foreign policy in some way. Nearly all of them thus apply to foreign nationals doing business in the US, meaning that they do not affect any voter in any way whatsoever.
Feel free to be alarmed that these “Emergency Powers” are not related at all to actual emergencies. What is most interesting about all of this is that much of what is done here could have been done by an ordinary act of Congress. But it wasn’t.
There is little doubt that declaring a lack of a wall on the border to be a “National Emergency” is a new level for this law. It will bring new scrutiny to an area that has been utterly lacking in it. But in doing so, it will highlight just how much power Congress has ceded to the President over the last few decades.
In many ways, it’s exactly the same thing that would happen if Queen Elizabeth were to have heads lopped off or something similar. What’s a bit unique here in the US is that while no heads have been lost, power has been used in ways that I think most of us agree it should not be. The burden fell on foreigners who didn’t do just what we told them to, so few have cared.
But this may be different. Sadly, it’s not as different as I hoped when I started researching this piece, however. The President very much can do things like this – he has been enabled. If he chooses to act like a queen, he can, even if it’s just to be a drama queen.
In using this power in this way, however, I hope we can see why it is essential that we put a stop to it. Just ask, “What would Queen Elizabeth do?” and then realize that we were supposed to be a Republic all along and such questions should be ridiculous.