Posse Comitatus is a Latin term that translates to ‘Power of the County’ in reference to the period in time when sheriffs could recruit able-bodied males above 15 years of age to help keep public order. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 was initially enacted to minimize the influence of federal troops on domestic affairs as well as prevent the possibility of having the military under civilian control. Prior to the enactment of the Act, the use of federal troops to maintain order in the various States was an accepted feature for example, the federal troops were used to monitor polling stations during the controversial 1876 Elections in the South. The Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone to use the USA Army or Air force to execute any law unless in situations expressly provided for under the Constitution or in any Act passed by Congress. Under the Title of the Act, the National Guard was not subject to the restrictions imposed. The role of the federal troops was to provide support to state law enforcement agencies such as providing training or equipment.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 sought to limit the use of Presidential power to deploy federal troops to quell any instances of insurrection or rebellion. In 2006, President Bush advocated for the amendment of existing Federal laws to allow for the use of federal forces in restoring public peace and order after the occurrence of natural disasters.
Consequently the Insurrection Act of 1807 was amended giving the President greater power in the deployment of troops. Section 333 of the Insurrection Act of 2006 allows the President to deploy federal troops during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other situations which he or she considers beyond the control of the state authorities. Under Section 334 of the Act insurgents or persons who obstruct the enforcement of the law may also be dispersed by federal troops. Section 332 of the Act permits the President to use militia to enforce the federal law in states where such enforcement is obstructed. Section 331 permits the use of the USA army or Air force to curb any insurrections in member states. The Insurrection Act of 2006 is often relied upon alongside the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The Insurrection Act may be invoked to suspend the Posse Comitatus Act which prevents the USA military from performing law enforcement duties that is to say, police work.
The occurrence of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the President seriously contemplated the use of federal troops in New Orleans to mitigate the effects of the Hurricane and restore order in these areas. However, such a move was not possible due to the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act. Moreover, the Insurrection Act of 1807, prevented the Federal Government from sending troops into states unless the existing state authorities sought such intervention or had broken down to the extent that they were no longer functional. The amendments made to the Insurrection Act in 2006 allow the President to deploy troops to areas struck by natural disaster without having to seek the consent of the relevant state authority.
After the twin bombings on 11th September in the USA questions arose as to whether the President had the authority to use lethal force on American soil. Suggestions have been advanced to the effect that Americans were killed because the federal military chose not to get involved or intercept the incoming planes and that the President could have ordered the military to engage the terrorists in those attacks. Thus the amendments to the Insurrection Act allow the President to deploy the military in the event of terrorist attacks.
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