by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
We’re a year into Gov. Roy Cooper’s muscular use of emergency powers via the state’s Emergency Management Act. Too muscular in my view, and others as well. It’s time to reform it, rein in the use of immense power by one person — no matter who sits in the seat. As Locke noted recently as part of Jon Guze’s detailed reform recommendations:
Let’s hope state legislators act soon.
Turns out that abuse/overuse of emergency powers is a federal issue as well, as Eric Boehm of Reason points out. It’s an issue that Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden have teamed up to address.
The most recent national emergency was declared just two weeks ago—when President Joe Biden granted himself emergency powers to freeze the property and assets of individuals and businesses connected to Myanmar’s military, following an attempted coup in the southeast Asian country.
It didn’t make national news. But why would it? It’s just one of 34 currently active national emergencies—each coming with its own special powers that the president can use until he decides to stop. The longest-running was invoked by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Iran hostage crisis (which ended in 1981, though the “emergency” never did). Other emergencies authorized by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump are still humming along too, many with no obvious end in sight.
What? 34 active national emergencies? Read the list that’s linked above. Moral of the story: Unless we check government power — whether in Washington, D.C., or in Raleigh, North Carolina — we embolden those who seek to use it. Back to Reason’s Eric Boehm.
As Reason’s Peter Suderman highlighted earlier this week, the federal government has been operating in a nonstop crisis mode—sometimes in response to officially declared national emergencies and other times due to its own incompetence—for more than two decades. “These emergencies have become excuses for permanent political power grabs, for restrictions on individual liberties large and small, for mass bureaucratization and mass expansion of government spending, trillions of dollars’ worth of non-solutions to deep-rooted problems,” Suderman wrote. “With every crisis, government grows. And now the crisis is government itself.”
Yes, we should be very concerned. Giving one person unilateral power isn’t an idea we should support, as Jon Guze explained to me in December.