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National Emergencies Act

The National Emergencies Act (Pub.L. 94–412, 90 Stat. 1255, enacted September 14, 1976, codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1601–1651) is a United States federal law passed to stop open-ended states of national emergency and formalize the power of Congress to provide certain checks and balances on the emergency powers of the President. The Act of Congress imposes certain procedural formalities on the President when invoking such powers. The perceived need for the law arose from the scope and number of laws granting special powers to the executive in times of national emergency.

National Emergencies Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to terminate certain authorities with respect to national emergencies still in effect, and to provide for orderly implementation and termination of future national emergencies.
Acronyms (colloquial)NEA
Enacted bythe 94th United States Congress
EffectiveSeptember 14, 1976
Public law94-412
Statutes at Large90 Stat. 1255
Titles amended50 U.S.C.: War and National Defense
U.S.C. sections created50 U.S.C. ch. 34 § 1601 et seq.
Legislative history

The legislation was signed by President Gerald Ford on September 14, 1976.[1] As of January 2019, the United States is under 31 continuing declared states of national emergency.[2][3]



The first President to issue an emergency proclamation[4][5] was Woodrow Wilson, who on February 5, 1917, issued the following:

I have found that there exists a national emergency arising from the insufficiency of maritime tonnage to carry the products of the farms, forests, mines and manufacturing industries of the United States, to their consumers abroad and within the United States[6]

This proclamation was within the limits of the act that established the United States Shipping Board.

Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, presidents asserted the power to declare emergencies without limiting their scope or duration, without citing the relevant statutes, and without congressional oversight.[7] The Supreme Court in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer limited what a president could do in such an emergency, but did not limit the emergency declaration power itself. A 1973 Senate investigation found (in Senate Report 93-549) that four declared emergencies remained in effect: the 1933 banking crisis with respect to the hoarding of gold,[8] a 1950 emergency with respect to the Korean War,[9] a 1970 emergency regarding a postal workers strike, and a 1971 emergency in response to inflation.[10] Many provisions of statutory law are contingent on a declaration of national emergency, as many as 500 by one count.[11] It was due in part to concern that a declaration of "emergency" for one purpose should not invoke every possible executive emergency power, that Congress in 1976 passed the National Emergencies Act.

Presidents have continued to use their emergency authority subject to the provisions of the act, with 42 national emergencies declared between 1976 and 2007.[12] Most of these were for the purpose of restricting trade with certain foreign entities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) (50 U.S.C. 1701–1707).


Termination of presidential authorityEdit

A prior Senate investigation had found 470 provisions of federal law that a President might invoke via a declaration of emergency.[13] The Act repealed several of these provisions and stated that prior emergency declarations would no longer give force to those provisions that remained. Congress did not attempt to revoke any outstanding emergency declarations per se, as these remained the President's prerogative under Article II of the Constitution.[14]

Procedure for new emergencies and rescinding emergency declarationsEdit

The Act authorized the President to activate emergency provisions of law via an emergency declaration on the conditions that the President specifies the provisions so activated and notifies Congress. An activation would expire if the President expressly terminated the emergency, or did not renew the emergency annually, or if each house of Congress passed a resolution terminating the emergency. After presidents objected to this "Congressional termination" provision on separation of powers grounds, it was replaced in 1985 with termination by an enacted joint resolution. This means that for Congress to rescind a declared emergency, not only must they pass the joint resolution, but the President must sign the legislation. The Act also requires the President and executive agencies to maintain records of all orders and regulations that proceed from use of emergency authority, and to regularly report the cost incurred to Congress.


Certain emergency authorities were exempted from the act at the time of its passage:

  • 10 USC 2304(a)(1) (allowing exemption of national defense contracts from competitive bidding)
  • 10 USC 3313, 6386(c) and 8313 (regulating the promotion, retirement and separation of military officers)
  • 12 USC 95(a) (regulating transactions in foreign gold and silver)
  • 40 USC 278(b) (regulating federal property purchases and contracts)
  • 41 USC 15 and 203 (limiting the assignment of claims against the federal government)
  • 50 USC 1431–1435 (enabling the President to make national defense contracts outside of otherwise applicable rules)

The list of exceptions has from time to time been revised. For example, Public Law 95-223 (1977) repealed the emergency clause of 12 USC 95(a) and arranged for its authority to expire according to the normal provisions of the NEA.

Emergency powersEdit

Congress has delegated at least 136 distinct statutory emergency powers to the President upon the declaration of an emergency, with only 13 of these requiring a declaration from Congress.[15]

Emergency presidential powers are dramatic, and have ranged from suspending all laws regulating chemical and biological weapons, including the ban on human testing (50 U.S.C. § 1515, 1969); to suspending any Clean Air Act implementation plan or excess emissions penalty upon petition of a state governor (42 U.S.C. (f) § 7410 (f) 1977); to authorizing and constructing military construction projects (10 U.S.C. (a) § 2808 (a), 1982) using any existing defense appropriations for such military constructions ($10.4 billion in FY2018[16]); to drafting any retired Coast Guard officers (14 U.S.C. § 331, 1963) or enlisted members (14 U.S.C. § 359, 1949) into active duty.


As of January 2019, 58 national emergencies have been invoked since the Act was enacted in 1976, with 31 of them having been renewed annually and remaining in effect as far back as 1979.[2][3] Donald Trump has kept in place the states of emergency put in place by his predecessors[17], and in January 2019 indicated he may use the emergency powers act if Congress does not appropriate $5.7 billion to build the proposed wall enlargment along the southern border.[18]

Other emergency frameworksEdit

Beyond the National Emergencies Act, Congress has established three other emergency power frameworks:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. "Gerald R. Ford: "Statement on Signing the National Emergencies Act.," September 14, 1976". The American Presidency Project. Santa Barbara: University of California.
  2. ^ a b Struyk, Ryan (10 January 2019). "Trump's Wall Would Be the 32nd Active National Emergency". CNNPolitics. The country is currently under 31 concurrent states of emergency about a spectrum of international issues around the globe, according to a CNN review of documents from the Congressional Research Service and the Federal Register.
  3. ^ a b Heath, Kendall (10 January 2019). "Here's a list of the 31 national emergencies that have been in effect for years". ABC News. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Declaring and Terminating a State of National Emergency". Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. ^ "National Emergency Powers" (PDF). Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  6. ^ "Woodrow Wilson: Proclamation 1354—Emergency in Water Transportation of the United States". Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  7. ^ H. Rep. No. 95-459, at 7 (1977)
  8. ^ Executive Order 6102
  9. ^ Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. "Harry S. Truman: "Proclamation 2914 – Proclaiming the Existence of a National Emergency," December 16, 1950". The American Presidency Project. Santa Barbara: University of California.
  10. ^ S. Rep. No. 93-549, at 2 (1973),
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Harold C. Relyea (Aug 30, 2007). "National Emergency Powers" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved Jan 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Senate Report 93-549, Emergency Powers Statutes
  14. ^ Miller, Diana (2002) Terrorism: Are We Ready? pp. 130–31.
  15. ^ "Emergency Powers". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
  16. ^ FY2018 Military Construction Authorizations and Appropriations (Report). Congressional Research Service. 6 June 2018. R45217.
  17. ^ Korte, Gregory (14 September 2017). "A permanent emergency: Trump becomes third president to renew extraordinary post-9/11 powers". Retrieved 11 January 2019 – via
  18. ^ Tackett, Michael; Davis, Julie Hirschfeld (10 January 2019). "White House Considers Using Storm Aid Funds as a Way to Pay for the Border Wall". Retrieved 11 January 2019 – via


  • F.J. Murray, "Wartime Presidential Powers Supersede Liberties," Washington Times, Sept. 18, 2001, pp. A1, A12, as quoted in Ref. 2.
  • H.C. Relyea, "Martial Law and National Emergency", Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RS21024, updated January 7, 2005:
  • H.C. Relyea, "National Emergency Powers", Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, order code 98-505 GOV, updated September 18, 2001:
  • H.C. Relyea, "National Emergency Powers", Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, order code 98-505 GOV, updated November 13, 2006:
  • "Toward Comprehensive Reform of America's Emergency Law Regime," including compendium of national emergency powers SSRN 2056822

External linksEdit