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Does the President Have Total Authority During a National Emergency?

Monday, President Donald Trump claimed that it will be his decision when the nation’s businesses will reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, and not a choice left to individual governors. The mainstream media is reporting his claim is false, but the U.S. Code on National Emergencies backs up Trump’s claim.

CNN and CNBC report that legal experts say Trump is wrong. For one, they note that U.S. law gives state governors wide latitude to protect the health and safety of their constituents. Secondly, they point out that Trump never declared a nationwide lockdown, so there’s no mechanism by which he could order a nationwide reopening now, namely.

However, according to the U.S. National Emergency code, the president does have full authority to act if his declaration is supported by specified provisions of law.

§1631. Declaration of national emergency by Executive order; authority; publication in Federal Register; transmittal to Congress
When the President declares a national emergency, no powers or authorities made available by statute for use in the event of an emergency shall be exercised unless and until the President specifies the provisions of law under which he proposes that he, or other officers will act. Such specification may be made either in the declaration of a national emergency, or by one or more contemporaneous or subsequent Executive orders published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
(Pub. L. 94–412, title III, §301, Sept. 14, 1976, 90 Stat. 1257.)

The Constitution does not expressly grant the President additional war powers or other powers in times of national emergency. However, many scholars think that the Framers implied these powers because the structural design of the Executive Branch enables it to act faster than the Legislative Branch. Nevertheless, because the Constitution remains silent on the issue, the Judiciary cannot grant these powers to the Executive Branch when it tries to wield them. The courts will only recognize a right of the Executive Branch to use emergency powers if Congress has granted such powers to the President.

While the president believes he does have full authority per the US code he says he may not use it that he prefers to work with the governors in reopening the country state by state.
President Trump promises that he will make an announcement and provide guidelines to re-open economy in the coming days.

Read full U.S. National Emergency code here.