The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C. §§ 251-2551 ) permits the military to assist civil authorities with civil disturbances under certain circumstances. The Act serves as the major exception to the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385), which prohibits federal military forces from actively participating in civilian law enforcement absent congressional or constitutional authority. When invoked by the President, the Insurrection Act allows federal military forces to participate in domestic law-enforcement activities.
10 U.S.C. § 251
Section 251, entitled “Federal aid for State governments,” authorizes the President to deploy the militia or the armed forces at the request of state officials to suppress an insurrection.
10 U.S.C. § 252
Section 332, entitled “Use of militia and armed forces to enforce Federal authority,” authorizes the President — even without the consent of state officials — to deploy the militia or armed forces when “obstructions” or “rebellion[s]” make it impracticable to enforce the laws through court orders.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower relied on § 252 when he sent federal troops to enforce the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas’ desegregation order in Little Rock, Arkansas.
10 U.S.C. § 253
Section 333, entitled “Interference with State and Federal Law,” authorizes the President, without state officials’ consent, to deploy the military, militia, or “any other means” to suppress “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy” if the action denies any class of people its rights or hinders the execution of the laws.
President John F. Kennedy relied on § 253 when he dispatched federal troops to military bases near Birmingham, Alabama to suppress race riots.
10 U.S.C. § 254
Section 334, entitled “Proclamation to disperse, “requires the President to issue a proclamation ordering the insurgents to disperse” whenever the President “considers it necessary to use the militia or the armed forces” under the Insurrection Act.
10 U.S.C. § 255
Section 335, entitled “Guam and Virgin Islands included as ‘States,'” includes both Guam and the Virgin Islands in the definition of “State” for purposes of the Insurrection Act.
In 1989, President George H.W. Bush invoked the Insurrection Act in the United States Virgin Islands to combat severe looting and violence after Hurricane Andrew.
1. Prior to 2016, the Insurrection Act appeared in 10 U.S.C. §§ 331-335.