President Bush signed an order Friday declaring a "national state of emergency." What does that mean?
Declaring a national emergency allows a president to put into effect as many as 470 statutes. Bush cited nine of those laws in Friday's executive order. (Click here to read it.) By declaring a national emergency Bush was able to:
1. Call up military reservists to active duty without their consent for up to two years. Under the law Bush used, no more than 1 million reservists may be on active duty without their consent at any one time. (Bush hasn't announced plans to call up anywhere near that many. He said Monday he would call up 35,000 reservists.)
2. Suspend laws regarding the authorized peacetime strength and distribution of military officers. This means the military can exceed the legal limits on the total number of commissioned officers on active duty, for example, or the number of officers at each grade of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel.
3. Suspend laws relating to the promotion and involuntary retirement of commissioned officers.
4. Suspend the peacetime limits on the strength of the armed forces.
5. Suspend laws relating to the legal limit on the total number of reserve officers.
6. Recall retired Coast Guard officers to active duty.
7. Recall retired enlisted members of the Coast Guard to active duty.
8. Detain enlisted members of the Coast Guard beyond their terms of enlistment for up to six months after end of the national emergency.
9. Allow the secretary of defense to pay for the additional members of the armed forces on active duty (because those funds wouldn't have been appropriated by Congress yet).
The president's emergency powers go far beyond what Bush did. In the past, presidents have imprisoned people they consider threats to national security, restricted Americans' travel to certain nations, fixed wages and prices, and suspended habeas corpus.
There is a congressional check on the president's exercise of emergency powers. In 1976, Congress passed the National Emergencies Act, which allows Congress to approve or to end national emergencies every six months after they are declared. That vote would be subject to a presidential veto and a congressional override, though no one is currently suggesting that Bush needs to be checked.