Nuclear Weapons

The Longest “Emergency”: 40 Years and Counting

03.22.19 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that an Australian man had been sentenced to 24 months in prison for illegally exporting aircraft parts and other items to Iran without a license, in violation of a law known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The case relied on a 1979 declaration of national emergency that remains in force.

The IEEPA, which gives the President the power to regulate certain economic transactions, can only be used under conditions of a national emergency. But it is the most frequently used of all of the reported 123 emergency statutes that have been adopted under the National Emergencies Act.

A major new report from the Congressional Research Service documents the history and application of the IEEPA as a tool of presidential emergency power. See The International Emergency Economic Powers Act: Origins, Evolution, and Use, March 20, 2019.

The “emergency” that made it possible to apply the IEEPA against the Austrailian exporter who was sentenced yesterday is the first, the oldest and the longest emergency ever declared under the National Emergencies Act. It was pronounced by President Carter in response to the seizure of the U.S. embassy by Iran in 1979.

“Six successive Presidents have renewed that emergency annually for nearly forty years,” CRS noted, and it “may soon enter its fifth decade… As of March 1, 2019, that emergency is still in effect, largely to provide a legal basis for resolving matters of ownership of the Shah’s disputed assets.”

In ordinary language, a condition that persists for decades cannot properly be termed an “emergency.”

Such “permanent emergencies are unacceptable,” wrote Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice in a March 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Once approved by Congress, states of emergency should expire after six months unless Congress votes to renew them,” she suggested, “and no emergency should exceed five years. Conditions lasting that long are not unforeseen or temporary, which are basic elements of an emergency.”

*    *    *

Some other noteworthy new publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Evaluating DOD Strategy: Key Findings of the National Defense Strategy Commission, CRS In Focus, March 19, 2019

International Trophy Hunting, March 20, 2019

U.S. Global Health Assistance: FY2017-FY2020 Request, CRS In Focus, updated March 14, 2019

U.S. Health Care Coverage and Spending, CRS In Focus, updated March 21, 2019

Federal Disaster Assistance for Agriculture, CRS In Focus, updated March 19, 2019

Europe’s Refugee and Migration Flows, CRS In Focus, updated March 20, 2019

U.S. Intelligence Community (IC): Appointment Dates and Appointment Legal Provisions for Selected IC Leadership, CRS In Focus, updated March 19, 2019

Proposed Air Force Acquisition of New F-15EXs, CRS Insight, March 19, 2019

Judicial Nomination Statistics and Analysis: U.S. District and Circuit Courts, 1977-2018, March 21, 2019

A Low-Yield, Submarine-Launched Nuclear Warhead: Overview of the Expert Debate, CRS In Focus, March 21, 2019

See all publications
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