Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) introduced legislation to amend and strengthen the Posse Comitatus Act to prevent the U.S. military from being used inappropriately in domestic law enforcement functions. This legislation, known as the Strengthening the Posse Comitatus Act of 2020, comes after the Trump Administration pre-positioned active duty military units from the U.S. Army to respond to national protests against police brutality in the United States and considered deploying them in major U.S. cities. Active duty military or federalized National Guard troops were ultimately never deployed.
“Just three weeks ago, the Administration made preparations to deploy active duty U.S. military forces across a number of U.S. cities, including the nation’s capital, an unnecessary step that would have heightened an already tense situation and risked catastrophe. As we have seen time and again with this President, we cannot rely on past norms to prevent the misuse of authorities. That’s why it is important to make it more difficult for this or any other president to misuse the military in a domestic law enforcement capacity,” said Rep. Schiff. “Americans exercising their First Amendment rights are not enemies, and should never be considered that way. This legislation would help ensure that civil liberties are always protected, including during mass protests.”
The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, provides a criminal penalty for the use of the Army or Air Force to enforce U.S. laws. Any exceptions to this general prohibition must be authorized by the Constitution or an Act of Congress. Schiff’s legislation would clarify in statute that the Posse Comitatus Act applies to all branches of the federal armed forces and excludes any information or other evidence collected by or with the assistance of military forces in violation of the Act during legal proceedings.
The Strengthening the Posse Comitatus Act would:
- Extend the Posse Comitatus Act to all branches of the Armed Forces, as its outdated language names only the Army and Air Force. Although the Marines and the Navy have adhered to these standards according to internal policy and administrative action, this legislation would ensure their inclusion by law, as well as the federalized National Guard and Reserve components.
- Prohibit the use of evidence unlawfully obtained by or with the assistance of the military in a court of law or other legal proceeding.
Schiff’s proposal is intended to complement other bills that have been introduced to place additional restrictions on the invocation of the Insurrection Act or place new limits on the President’s authority over state National Guard units.
The full text of the legislation can be found here.