Are We Close to Martial Law?

Are We Close to Martial Law?

( – Cases of COVID-19 continue to spread around the country at an alarming pace. The federal government and states are taking measures most Americans are not used to in order to contain the virus. Some fear that martial law is coming and some even believe it’s already here.

Is it really coming, though? If anything, it might feel like certain elements of “martial law” are here. At the very least, the state and federal governments are taking drastic measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Some states and municipalities are calling for non-essential businesses and government offices to close. Schools have been shut down. The government is asking that people practice social distancing to control the spread of the virus.

In San Francisco, the local government has instituted “shelter in place” orders. Under the order, residents may only leave their house for work at an essential business. There are of course exceptions like going to the grocery store, drug store, or health care provider. Other communities across the country are considering it as well.

As of Tuesday, March 17, 2020, over 1,500 Army National Guard personnel were activated in 22 states to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in a support capacity.

All of this has the feel of a good science fiction movie. Except it’s not happening on a screen — it’s happening to us in real-time. However, while what we’re experiencing today is not normal, it’s also not martial law.

What Is Martial Law?

Martial law is the replacement of civilian authority with temporary military rule in a time of crisis. Only the President of the United States, Congress, or states in accordance with their Constitutions, can declare martial law.

According to a law journal, during a declared martial law “certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. And the writ of habeas corpus [the right to a trial before imprisonment] may be suspended.”

In addition, the military has the authority to enforce civil and criminal laws.

What’s happening now is not martial law. All “orders” from the federal government down to local governments have primarily been requests up to this point. The only exception is San Francisco, which says violators could face a misdemeanor charge if residents ignore shelter in place orders.

The use of martial law has been very rare in American history, but it’s not unprecedented. However, it’s a measure of last resort. Courts will only allow troops if it can be proven it’s necessary and proper.

When has Martial Law Been Used?

Martial law has been used in times of war, natural disasters, and civil disputes — and only rarely.

In 1812, General Andrew Jackson imposed martial law in New Orleans after liberating it from the French to regain control of the city. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus despite questions about its legality. This was the only case of national use of martial law that affected the entire US population.

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt interned both US Japanese citizens and immigrants at camps inside the United States through the states and in a limited capacity.

Martial Law Has Limits

Martial law does have limits via the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits US military personnel from carrying out domestic law enforcement actions.

National Guard units have special exceptions so long as they’re under the control of a state government. So, the next time you hear martial law is being imposed — know it’s not happening at the federal or state level — at least not yet. If it does happen, you’ll most certainly know it.

~Here’s to Your Prosperity!

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