March 26, 2020

The Right Way to Reform the U.S. President’s International Emergency Powers

By Peter Harrell

There is growing discussion in Washington about potential reforms to presidential emergency powers, a debate that will only intensify as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. While the scale and rapidity of the crisis reminds Americans of why the U.S. government needs broad legal authorities to respond to genuine national emergencies, the potential for presidential abuse is high. Yet for most of the past year, key legislative proposals to reform presidential emergency powers have excluded one of the most important and most frequently invoked authorities: the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA, a broad statute that allows the president to impose a range of financial and trade restrictions, including sanctions, in response to national emergencies arising outside the United States.

IEEPA’s exclusion from reform efforts is odd. IEEPA has been used far more frequently than most presidential emergency powers–some 58 times between the 1970s and 2020. This means that IEEPA has been invoked in approximately 90 percent of the 64 instances in which a president has declared a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act, according to a study by New York University’s Brennan Center. But while IEEPA generally has been applied for entirely appropriate purposes such as imposing sanctions on Iran, terrorists, and Russia, the breadth of the statute means it is ripe for potential abuse.

Read the full article in Just Security.

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