Nov. 19, 2020
Calling Forth the Military: A Brief History of the Insurrection Act
In the literal sense, the Insurrection Act does not exist. Rather than a singular piece of legislation, it is a broad, overarching concept for a series of acts dating to the 1790s that concern the use of American military forces within the United States.1 These statutes, later codified in current Title 10 U.S. Code 251–255, serve as the primary rationale for the delegation of authority to the President to use military forces domestically. In the past 50 years, only one President, George H.W. Bush, has used these emergency powers: in the Virgin Islands in 1989 and in Los Angeles in 1992. The 28 years since the Los Angeles riots mark the longest period in American history without a domestic deployment of troops under the act. In part, local authorities—many armed and equipped to military standards—have proved more capable of handling disturbances and other crises. Additionally, domestic military deployments have proved politically difficult for Presidents whose critics have attacked such actions as gross usurpations of local authority by an overreaching Federal executive.