Senators Express Strong Opposition to Use of Military to Impede the First Amendment Rights of Americans
[Washington, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in sending a letter to U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley voicing grave concerns over President Donald Trump’s recent threat to invoke the Insurrection Act in response to nationwide protests calling for justice for George Floyd and an end to systemic racism.
“President Trump’s behavior over the last three years has repeatedly politicized our Armed Forces and portrayed their mission not as one to protect and defend the Constitution, but rather to protect and defend his political interests,” wrote the senators. “The military should never be weaponized by the President to limit these expressions for liberty and justice. We believe it is antithetical to what those in uniform have sworn to protect and defend, and a serious threat to our democratic system.”
The senators continued, “This is a critical moment for our nation. How our institutions respond will determine whether the coming weeks and months lead to healing and unity, or continued derision, discord and injustice. We urge you to refrain from using the United States military to diminish or suppress the peaceful, free expression of Americans who are exercising their civil liberties in a call to hold government institutions to a higher standard in the fight for racial justice.”
The letter requests that the Department of Defense provide information by Friday, June 5 on whether the Department would deploy federal troops outside of the use of the Insurrection Act, if deployments would ever include combat designated troops, how troops would be trained and prepared, what the mission, scope, and rules would entail for the use of force as well if they would be authorized to perform arrests.
In addition to Blumenthal, Murphy, Bennet, Baldwin, Casey, and Brown, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii).
The text of the letter is available below.
Dear Secretary Esper and General Milley:
We write to express our grave concern regarding President Trump’s recent announcement that he intends to invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize active duty military personnel or federalize National Guard personnel to deploy within the United States in response to nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Under the Posse Comitatus Act, the U.S. Armed Forces are prohibited from performing law enforcement duties in the United States outside of Constitutional authorization or an act of Congress. Under exigent circumstances, the Insurrection Act of 1807 allows the President to deploy military personnel within U.S. borders in the event of an insurrection, rebellion, or extreme civil unrest. The Insurrection Act, last used in 1992, is an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act that is understood to only be invoked under extreme conditions. We believe the President’s interpretation of the Insurrection Act contravenes its purpose and spirit significantly departs from previous applications throughout our nation’s history. While the first part of the Act (10 U.S.C. §251) allows states to request support from the federal government, other provisions of the Act (10 U.S.C. §252, §253, and §254) allow the President to activate federal troops independent of a state’s request – under specific and limited conditions which are not currently met.
The Act has historically been invoked under these narrower provisions in order to protect equal access to civil rights, as was the case when federal forces protected the desegregation of public schools in Arkansas in 1957 and in Mississippi and Alabama in 1962 and 1963, respectively. Invoking the Act to restrict Americans’ right to freedom of assembly, speech, and protest under current circumstances would be a significant departure fromimportant historical uses of the law.
President Trump’s behavior over the last three years has repeatedly politicized our Armed Forces and portrayed their mission not as one to protect and defend the Constitution, but rather to protect and defend his political interests. We are deeply concerned by your description of the United States, and those exercising their right to protest, as a “battlespace.” America is not a “battlespace” and protestors should never be “dominated” by the government or the military. Those peacefully protesting are not “thugs” or “terrorists” but are individuals exercising their fundamental Constitutional rights. The military should never be weaponized by the President to limit these expressions for liberty and justice. We believe it is antithetical to what those in uniform have sworn to protect and defend, and a serious threat to our democratic system.
Furthermore, General Milley, we are deeply concerned that your appointment to lead the Armed Forces’ response to ongoing protests will further militarize the government’s response. The scope of your leadership role remains unclear and concerning. The appointment of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to manage the response to nationwide domestic protests represents a highly disturbing delegation of authority and injects confusion within the chain of command.
In short, we oppose in the strongest terms the use of the U.S. military to impede the First Amendment rights of Americans. In cases where there is a need for additional security, state and local law enforcement, with support from the state National Guard, who live with and within the communities they serve, under the control of each state, are fully capable of responding.
Given the urgency of this situation and the potential for abuse of the Insurrection Act, we ask that you brief our staff to address the following questions concerning the possible invocation of the Act and use of other military personnel domestically not later than 3:00 pm Friday, June 5, 2020.
This is a critical moment for our nation. How our institutions respond will determine whether the coming weeks and months lead to healing and unity, or continued derision, discord and injustice. We urge you to refrain from using the United States military to diminish or suppress the peaceful, free expression of Americans who are exercising their civil liberties in a call to hold government institutions to a higher standard in the fight for racial justice. We believe strongly in a healthy civil-military relationship. The inappropriate use of U.S. federal military personnel in this context could result in irrevocable damage to our nation.
We appreciate your response within the week.