A special Senate committee will soon propose legislation to limit presidential emergency powers, Patrick M. Norton, a second-year Law student and former committee staff member said yesterday.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen Charles Mathias (R-Md.), has reviewed nearly 500 laws which allocate special privileges to the president in a declared emergency.
The United States has been technically in a state of emergency for over twenty years. In 1950, as part of the American involvement in the Korean war, President Truman declared a national emergency. The alert has never been officially terminated.
The proposals drafted by the committee to correct this situation place three restrictions on executive emergency powers:
* When declaring an emergency, the president will be required to stipulate exactly which emergency laws he wishes to invoke;
* The powers granted will terminate within thirty days unless Congress votes its approval; and
* All powers will automatically lapse after six months and must then be resubmitted to Congress for approval.
"We discovered some major horror areas," Norton said yesterday.
Norton said some interpretations of existing laws would allow the president to take over all communications systems. Until recently, he said, the president had the authority to set up internment camps at will.
"The terminology is so slack in this area that it grants the president virtually dictatorial powers," Norton added.
"The committee is trying to put a little rationality into this whole area of government," he said.
"I think this is one of the most important and heartening steps that Congress has taken in a long time," Raoul Berger, Warren Senior Fellow in American Legal History, said yesterday. He called for restoration of Congressional powers, and predicted that "unless we move farther in this direction, we will end up with worse problems than Watergate."