Posse comitatus! A bunch of skinheads descending on a certain area intent on mischief? For a long time when I was younger, I believed something like that.
The term posse comitatus, literally translated as the power of the county, first appeared in English law in 1411 with the passage of a riot act calling for the sheriffs and justice of the peace together with the poair de counte to arrest rioters (13 Hen. 4, c.7 (1411)). However the concept of a posse comitatus can be traced back to the Assize of Arms (1181) and the creation of the jurata ad arma, an armed body of men at the disposal of the King for the purposes of keeping the peace.
After the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, when 19 civilians were shot down by a posse, their use ended with the passage of a Federal statute known as the Posse Comitatus Act. The Act forbids the use of the military of the United States as a posse comitatus or for law enforcement purposes, with the exception of the National Guard.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the set of laws that govern the President of the United States of America’s ability to deploy troops within the United States to put down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion.
Coupled with the Posse Comitatus Act, the President had limited powers to use military force within the U.S..
On September 30, 2006, the Congress modified the Insurrection Act as part of the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill. Section 1076 of the new law changes Sec. 333 of the “Insurrection Act,” and widens the President’s ability to deploy troops within the United States to enforce the laws. Under this act, the President may also deploy troops as a police force during a natural disaster, epidemic, serious public health emergency, terrorist attack, or other condition, when the President determines that the authorities of the state are incapable of maintaining public order. The bill also modified Sec. 334 of the Insurrection Act, giving the President authority to order the dispersal of either insurgents or “those obstructing the enforcement of the laws.” The new law changed the name of the chapter from “Insurrection” to “Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order.”
What the Posse Comitatus Act did was set a high bar in the use of the military in a policing role. Lower level officers were routinely punished for over stepping their bounds. Americans have distrusted an army that could be used against them. Now it appears that very little excuse is needed to deploy the military. Even Congress, whose job is oversight and upholding the Constitution must be notified as soon as practicable and renewed every 14 days. That doesn’t seem good enough to me.