Rachel Goodman


Imagining a Federal Emergency Board: A Framework for Legalizing Executive Emergency Power

Rachel Goodman

In the United States, the tripartite system ensures the rule of law by dividing the power to make laws between Congress and the President. The system, however, makes virtually no provision for moments of grave emergency, in which the President is expected to act before authorization from Congress can be secured. As a result, presidential discretion—exercised first in emergency—creeps into nonemergency governance, corroding the rule of law.

This Note employs John Locke’s concept of the federative power to define the emergency moment as limited to that period of time during which it is logistically impossible for Congress to approve executive action. From there, it proposes an administrative agency, the Federal Emergency Board, with the power to declare an emergency during this interval, thereby authorizing and legalizing the exercise of executive power.

Without ignoring the somewhat fantastical nature of this proposal, this Note engages seriously in a discussion of its constitutionality. It explores the remedies that would remain available to individuals whose rights were violated during a declared emergency. Finally, it examines whether a sitting President would be likely to seek authorization for his emergency action. It concludes that, at the very least, the existence of the Federal Emergency Board would remind Americans that the system of checks and balances does not disappear during moments of emergency.