10 May 2022


The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act

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The Posse Comitatus Act is a federal law in the United States which was signed by President Rutherford Hayes in 1878, June (Doyle, 2000). The act was signed into law to limit the excessive powers which the federal government initially had in enforcing domestic policies in the country. This act was passed as an amendment on the appropriation bill for the army after the end of Reconstruction. The Act strictly applied to the U.S Army until 1956 when it was amended to cover the U.S Airforce (Doyle, 2000). Whereas the act does not mention explicitly on the navy or marine corps, the Navy department used regulations which are construed towards strengthening the act with regards to the services. The act does not apply to the Air national guard or the army national guard under the authority of the state government. Also, the act does not cover the Coast Guard which falls under the Homeland Security Department because even though the Coast Guard is part of the army, it covers enforcement missions for maritime law and federal regulations.

Following the Hurricane Katrina incident, there was a hot debate on whether or not the Bush government was justified to use active duty military to enforce domestic policies. The government hesitated in sending their military forces since it was not sure of whether or not the government had the authority to order its troops to get into the areas which were affected by the hurricane (Baker, 2014). This paper establishes that there were no constitutional rights violated by the military regarding policing during the Hurricane Katrina incident. This is because while the Posse Comitatus Act limited the military from enforcing domestic policies, the act gave an exception of situations which required explicit emergency from the national government with an approval from the Congress (Baker, 2014). It is the view of this paper that Hurricane Katrina was an example of such emergencies. With the communication and logistical problems experienced during the incident of Hurricane Katrina, the importance of military engagement in such issues became evident. Furthermore, the Hurricane Katrina incident was not a normal disaster and, therefore, the normal relief system could not be left to effectively handle a disaster of such magnitude.

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There have been consistent arguments by some people who believe that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 should be eliminated. The basic argument for this school of thought is that in most cases, the active troops are in a position to respond quickly to the disasters which require an immediate response (Doyle, 2000). There are several circumstances for which the act does not apply. For example, for crimes which involve nuclear or incidences which involve chemicals, the active troops are allowed to play major roles. With the troops having the authority over such circumstances, it should be given the authority to enforce domestic policies under an outlined framework. 

Whereas the active military troops have vast logistical and management capabilities to handle disasters and enforce domestic policies, this paper does not support the removal of the Posse Comitatus Act in entirety. The deployment of the troops in the U.S may give an opportunity for the Department of Defense to get involved in surveillance without any warrant (Tighe & Brown, 2015). The extension of the role of the military in the enforcement of domestic laws may also pave way for an increase in the illegal warrantless surveillance activities in which the military or the government overuses its legal duty and begins to breach the right to privacy of the Americans (Tighe & Brown, 2015). Also, it does not make any logical sense for the military to extend its operations to the responsibilities which are already reserved for civilian law authorities. In this era where there are efforts to strengthen local authorities, deployment of active troops on U.S soil raises fundamental questions which should be publicly addressed by the citizens of the United States.


Baker, C. R. (2014). Breakdowns of accountability in the face of natural disasters: The case of Hurricane Katrina.  Critical perspectives on accounting 25 (7), 620-632.

Doyle, C. (2000, June). The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters: the use of the military to execute civilian law. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS WASHINGTON DC CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE.

Tighe, S., & Brown, W. (2015). The Militarization of Law Enforcement: Bypassing the Posse Comitatus Act.  Justice Policy Journal 12 (2).

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