A bill prefiled in the Oklahoma Senate would prohibit deployment of the state’s National Guard troops into a foreign combat zone without a congressional declaration of war as required by the Constitution. Passage into law would take a step toward restoring the founders’ constitutional framework for a state-federal balance regarding the state militia.
Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) filed Senate Bill 135 (SB135) earlier this month. The legislation would require a congressional declaration of war before Oklahoma National Guard units could be deployed into combat in a foreign country. The legislation reads in part:
“The Oklahoma National Guard and any member thereof shall not be released from the state into active duty combat unless the United States Congress has passed an official declaration of war or has taken an official action pursuant to Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the United States Constitution to explicitly call forth the Oklahoma National Guard and any member thereof for the enumerated purposes to expressly execute the laws of the union, repel an invasion or suppress an insurrection.”
SB135 specifically defines a declaration of war as ”an official declaration of war made by the United States Congress pursuant to Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution.”
National Guard troops have played significant roles in all modern overseas conflicts, with over 650,000 deployed since 2001. Military.com reports that “Guard and Reserve units made up about 45 percent of the total force sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and received about 18.4 percent of the casualties.” More specifically, Oklahoma National Guard troops have participated in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Kosovo, Ukraine and elsewhere.
Since none of these missions have been accompanied by a Constitutional declaration of war, the Defend the Guard Act would have prohibited those deployments. Such declarations have only happened five times in U.S. history, with the last being in World War II.
Article I, Section 8, Clauses 15 and 16 make up the “militia clauses” of the Constitution. Clause 16 authorizes Congress to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia.” Through the Dick Act of 1903, Congress organized the militia into today’s National Guard, limiting the part of the militia that could be called into federal service rather than the “entire body of people,” which makes up the totality of the “militia.” Thus, today’s National Guard is governed by the “militia clauses” of the Constitution, and this view is confirmed by the National Guard itself.
Clause 15 delegates to the Congress the power to provide for “calling forth the militia” in three situations only: 1) to execute the laws of the union, 2) to suppress insurrections, and 3) to repel invasions.
During state ratifying conventions, proponents of the Constitution, including James Madison and Edmund Randolph, repeatedly assured the people that this power to call forth the militia into federal service would be limited to those very specific situations, and not for general purposes, like helping victims of a disease outbreak or engaging in “kinetic military actions.”
RETURNING TO THE CONSTITUTION
The founding generation was careful to ensure the president wouldn’t have the power to drag the United States into endless wars. James Madison made this clear in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:
“The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”
Congress has abrogated its responsibility and allowed the president to exercise almost complete discretion when it comes to war. Passage of Defend the Guard legislation would pressure Congress to do its constitutional duty.
West Virginia Rep. Pat McGeehan served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Afghanistan and has sponsored similar legislation in his state.
“For decades, the power of war has long been abused by this supreme executive, and unfortunately our men and women in uniform have been sent off into harm’s way over and over,” he said. “If the U.S. Congress is unwilling to reclaim its constitutional obligation, then the states themselves must act to correct the erosion of constitutional law.”
Passage of Defend the Guard would also force the federal government to only use the Guard for the three expressly-delegated purposes in the Constitution, and at other times to remain where the Guard belongs, at home, supporting and protecting their home state.
While getting this bill passed won’t be easy and will face fierce opposition from the establishment, it certainly is, as Daniel Webster once noted, “one of the reasons state governments even exist.”
Webster made this observation in an 1814 speech on the floor of Congress where he urged actions similar to the Oklahoma Defend the Guard Act. He said, “The operation of measures thus unconstitutional and illegal ought to be prevented by a resort to other measures which are both constitutional and legal. It will be the solemn duty of the State governments to protect their own authority over their own militia, and to interpose between their citizens and arbitrary power. These are among the objects for which the State governments exist.”
SB135 will be officially introduced when the Oklahoma legislature convenes on Feb. 1. At that time it will be referred to a committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
This article was originally featured at the Tenth Amendment Center and is republished with permission.