Terrorist Attacks and National Emergency Declarations
CRS Report for Congress
Terrorist Attacks and
National Emergencies Act Declarations
Harold C. Relyea
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
As part of his response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush formally declared national
emergencies on September 14 and 23 pursuant to the National Emergencies Act. The
President’s actions follow a long-standing tradition of alerting the nation to a crisis
threatening public order and constitutional government. Currently, such declarations
also allow the President to make use of activated authority on a selective basis, as
appropriate for responding to an emergency. Updated as events recommend, this report
chronicles the actions taken by President Bush pursuant to his national emergency
declarations, as well the issuance of additional such declarations concerning terrorism.
Terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon
in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, prompted President George W. Bush to
declare a national emergency on September 14.1 His action followed a long-standing
tradition, dating, in the federal experience, to August 17, 1794, when President George
Washington issued a proclamation calling forth the militia to suppress rebellious
opposition to the collection of an excise tax on whiskey in locales of western
Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas.2 Washington took personal command of the
forces organized to put down the “Whiskey Rebellion.”
Until the crisis of World War I, Presidents utilized emergency powers at their own
discretion. Proclamations announced the exercise of exigency authority. However,
during World War I and thereafter, Chief Executives had available to them a growing
body of standby emergency authority that became operative upon the issuance of a
proclamation declaring a condition of national emergency. Sometimes such
proclamations confined the matter of crisis to a specific policy sphere, and sometimes
1 Proclamation 7463, Federal Register, vol. 66, Sept. 18, 2001, pp. 48197-48199.
2 See James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents,
vol. 1 (New York: Bureau of National Literature, 1897), pp. 149-154; for the underlying statute
for the President’s proclamation, see 1 Stat. 264-265.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
they placed no limitation whatsoever on the pronouncement. These activations of standby
emergency authority remained acceptable practice until the era of the Vietnam war.
Growing public and congressional displeasure with the President’s exercise of his
war powers and deepening U.S. involvement in hostilities in Vietnam prompted interest
in a variety of related matters. Senator Charles Mathias, together with Senator Frank
Church, sought to establish a Senate special committee to study administration reliance
on a 1950 proclamation of national emergency to prosecute the Vietnam war. Initially
chartered in June 1972 with Mathias and Church as cochairmen, the study panel
subsequently produced various studies and assessments.3 Among other discoveries, the
committee, after reviewing the United States Code and uncodified emergency powers
statutes, identified 470 provisions of federal law that delegated extraordinary authority to
the executive in time of national emergency. It also found that there was no process for
automatically terminating outstanding national emergency proclamations. Thus, the panel
began developing legislation containing a formula for regulating emergency declarations
in the future and otherwise adjusting the body of statutorily delegated emergency powers
by abolishing some provisions, relegating others to permanent status, and continuing
others in a standby capacity. Its final report, offering findings and recommendations, was
issued in May 1976.4
The National Emergencies Act
As early as July 1974, the special committee had unanimously recommended
legislation establishing a procedure for presidential declaration and congressional
regulation of a national emergency. Introduced in the Senate the following month, the
measure, after negotiation with the executive branch and further refinement, was cleared
for President Gerald Ford’s signature on September 14, 1976.5
3 See U.S. Congress, Senate Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated
Emergency Powers, A Brief History of Emergency Powers in the United States, committee print,rdnd
93 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1974); U.S. Congress, Senate Special Committee on
National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers, A Recommended National Emergenciesrdnd
Act, 93 Cong., 2 sess., S.Rept. 93-1170 (Washington: GPO, 1974); U.S. Congress, Senate
Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers, Executiverdnd
Orders in Times of War and National Emergency, committee print, 93 Cong., 2 sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1974); U.S. Congress, Senate Special Committee on the Termination of therdst
National Emergency, Emergency Powers Statutes, 93 Cong., 1 sess., S.Rept. 93-549
(Washington: GPO, 1973); U.S. Congress, Senate Special Committee on the Termination of therdst
National Emergency, National Emergency, 3 parts, hearings, 93 Cong., 1 sess., Apr. 11-12, July
4 See U.S. Congress, Senate Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated
Emergency Powers, National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers, 94th Cong., 2nd
sess., S.Rept. 94-922 (Washington: GPO, 1976).
5 90 Stat. 1255; 50 U.S.C. 1601-1651 (1988); see U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on
Government Operations and Special Committee on National Emergencies and Delegated
Emergency Powers, The National Emergencies Act (Public Law 94-412). Source Book:thnd
Legislative History, Texts, and Other Documents, committee print, 94 Cong., 2 sess.
(Washington: GPO, 1976).
As enacted, the National Emergencies Act consisted of five titles. The first of these
generally returned all standby statutory delegations of emergency power, activated by an
outstanding declaration of national emergency, to a dormant state two years after the
statute’s approval. However, the act did not cancel outstanding 1933, 1950, 1970, and
1971 national emergency proclamations, because these were issued by the President
pursuant to his Article II constitutional authority. Nevertheless, it did render them
ineffective by returning to dormancy the statutory authorities they had activated, thereby
necessitating a new declaration to activate standby statutory emergency authorities.
Title II provided a procedure for future declarations of national emergency by the
President and prescribed arrangements for their congressional regulation. The statute
established an exclusive means for declaring a national emergency. Furthermore,
emergency declarations were to terminate automatically after one year unless formally
continued for another year by the President, but could be terminated earlier by either the
President or Congress. Originally, the prescribed method for congressional termination
of a declared national emergency was a concurrent resolution adopted by both houses of
Congress. This type of so-called “legislative veto” was effectively invalidated by the
Supreme Court in 1983.6 The National Emergencies Act was amended in 1985 to
substitute a joint resolution as the vehicle for rescinding a national emergency
decl arat i on. 7
When declaring a national emergency, the President must indicate, according to Title
III, the powers and authorities being activated to respond to the exigency at hand. A
recent CRS compilation identifies almost 160 provisions of law that may be activated by
an emergency proclamation.8 They include authority to prosecute and punish anyone who
willfully makes or conspires to make defective war material (18 U.S.C. 2154), to waive
the written application requirement for radio station licenses and renewals (47 U.S.C.
308), to release national defense stockpile materials (50 U.S.C. 98f(a)(2)), to control
vessels in territorial waters (50 U.S.C. 191), and to regulate or prohibit any transactions
in foreign exchange, bank transfers of credit or payments involving any interest of any
foreign country or a national thereof, or transactions involving any property in which any
foreign country or a national thereof has any interest (50 U.S.C. 1702).
Certain presidential accountability and reporting requirements regarding national
emergency declarations were specified in Title IV, and the repeal and continuation of
various statutory provisions delegating emergency powers was accomplished in Title V.
Initial use of the act occurred in November 1979 in response to the U.S. embassy
being seized and its personnel being taken hostage in Tehran, Iran. The proclaimed
national emergency activated authority for the seizure of Iranian government property,
including assets, and prohibition of economic transactions with Iran. Such national
emergency actions were also subsequently taken against Nicaragua, South Africa, Libya,
6 See Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983).
7 See 99 Stat. 405, 448.
8 See CRS Report RL31133, Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military
Force: Background and Legal Implications, by David M. Ackerman and Richard F. Grimmett,
Panama, Iraq, Haiti, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Burma, and Sudan. On
several occasions since 1983, when the Export Administration Act of 1979 automatically
expired and awaited reauthorization, national emergencies were declared to activate
authority by which to continue the operative status of the statute’s export control
regulations. To date, over 30 national emergencies have been declared pursuant to the
National Emergencies Act, and about a dozen of these have been subsequently
Responding to Terrorist Attacks
Prior to the September 14, 2001, national emergency declaration of President George
W. Bush in response to terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.,
President William Clinton had declared a January 1995 national emergency relative to
prohibiting transactions with terrorists who threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace
process. Such transactions included assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial,
material, or technological support for, or services in support of, acts of violence by
In his national emergency declaration, President Bush did not activate, as one
newspaper erroneously reported, “some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those
allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.”10 Instead, his declaration, in
accordance with the requirements of the National Emergencies Act, selectively activated
the following statutory authorities, which were specified in the President’s national
10 U.S.C. 123. Authorizes the President, in time or war or national emergency
declared by Congress or the President, to suspend the operation of any provision of law
relating to the promotion, involuntary retirement, or separation of commissioned officers
of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard Reserve.
10 U.S.C. 123a. Authorizes the President, at the end of any fiscal year when there
is in effect a war or national emergency, to defer the effectiveness of any end-strength
limitation with respect to that fiscal year prescribed by law for any military or civilian
component of the armed forces or of the Department of Defense.
10 U.S.C. 527. Authorizes the President, in time or war or national emergency
declared by Congress or the President, to suspend the operation of three specified sections
of Title 10, United States Code, concerning the authorized strength of commissioned
officers on active duty in senior grades, the distribution of commissioned officers on
active duty in general officer or flag officer grades, and the authorized strength of
commissioned officers on active duty in general officer or flag officer grades.
9 See CRS Report 98-505, National Emergency Powers, by Harold C. Relyea.
10 Frank J. Murray, “Wartime Presidential Powers Supersede Liberties,” Washington Times, Sept.
10 U.S.C. 2201(c). Authorizes the President to make a determination that it is
necessary to increase the number of members of the armed services on active duty beyond
the number for which funds have been appropriated for the Department of Defense.
10 U.S.C. 12006. Authorizes the President, in time of war or national emergency
declared by Congress or the President, to suspend the operation of three specified sections
of Title 10, United States Code, concerning the authorized strengths of armed forces
reserve commissioned officers in an active status, reserve general and flag officers in an
active status, and filling senior Army and Air Force Reserve commissioned officer
10 U.S.C. 12302. Authorizes the President, in time of national emergency declared
by the President, to call members of the Ready Reserve to active duty.
14 U.S.C. 331. Authorizes the Secretary of Transportation, in time of war or
national emergency, to order any regular officer of the Coast Guard on the retired list to
14 U.S.C. 359. Authorizes the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in time of war or
national emergency, to order any enlisted member of the Coast Guard on the retired list
to active duty.
14 U.S.C. 367. Authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to detain enlisted
members of the Coast Guard beyond their terms of enlistment.
President Bush directed and delegated the exercise of this authority with E.O. 13223
of September 14, 2001.11
On September 23, 2001, President Bush again declared a national emergency,
invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA),12 and ordered its
implementation to block property and prohibit transactions with persons who commit,
threaten to commit, or support terrorism.13 The IEEPA authorizes the President to
regulate or prohibit any transactions in foreign exchange, bank transfers of credit or
payments involving any interest of any foreign country or a national thereof, or
transactions involving any property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has
any interest. Earlier, President Clinton had declared a national emergency and invoked
the IEEPA to prohibit transactions with terrorists who threatened to disrupt the Middle
East peace process.14
On November 16, 2001, President Bush, pursuant to his September 14 declaration
of a national emergency, issued E.O. 13235 invoking the emergency construction
authority and making it available for implementation by the Secretary of Defense and, at
11 E.O. 13223, Federal Register, vol. 66, Sept. 18, 2001, pp. 48201-48202.
12 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706.
13 E.O. 13224, Federal Register, vol. 66, Sept. 25, 2001, pp. 49079-49082.
14 E.O. 12947, 3 C.F.R., 1995 Comp., pp. 319-320.
the Secretary’s discretion, to the secretaries of the military departments.15 This authority,
found at 10 U.S.C. 2808, authorizes the Secretary of Defense, in time of declared war or
national emergency declared by the President, and without regard to any other provision
of law, to undertake military construction projects and to authorize the secretaries of the
military departments to undertake such construction projects, not otherwise authorized by
law, as are necessary to support use of the armed forces. Such construction projects may
be undertaken only within the total amount of funds that have been appropriated for
military construction, including funds appropriated for family housing, that have not been
With E.O. 13253 of January 16, 2002, President Bush amended E.O. 13223, which
ordered the Ready Reserve to active duty. The amendments extended certain authorities
to the Secretary of Transportation relative to Coast Guard personnel.16
Intervention in Iraq
Growing out of U.S. intervention in Iraq, which has been justified, in part, by the
Bush Administration as an action against al Qaeda located there and a regime tied to and
harboring such terrorists, President Bush issued E.O. 13303 of May 22, 2003, declaring
a national emergency for purposes of protecting the development fund for Iraq and certain
other property in which Iraq has an interest.17 A primary authority activated in this regard
is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This emergency declaration was
designed to protect property and interests in property apart from protections emanating
from an earlier emergency declaration made with E.O. 12722 of August 2, 1990.
On December 17, 2003, President Bush, pursuant to his national emergency
declaration of September 14, 2001, issued E.O. 13321 invoking 10 U.S.C. 603, which
authorizes the President to appoint qualified persons to any officer grade in the armed
forces.18 This authority was made available to the Secretary of Defense in accordance
with the terms of the statutory provision and E.O. 12396 concerning defense officer
Further actions by the President pursuant to his September 14 and 23, 2001, national
emergency declarations, and the issuance of additional such declarations concerning
terrorism, will be chronicled in this report as they occur.
15 E.O. 13235, Federal Register, vol. 66, Nov. 20, 2001, p. 58343.
16 E.O. 13253, Federal Register, vol. 67, Jan. 18, 2002, p. 2791.
17 E.O. 13303, Federal Register, vol. 68, May 28, 2003, pp. 31931-31932.
18 E.O. 13321, Federal Register, vol. 68, Dec. 23, 2003, p. 74465.
19 E.O. 12396, 3 C.F.R., 1982 Comp., pp. 234-235.