CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Feb. 11, 2020) Today, a West Virginia House committee passed a bill that would prohibit foreign combat deployments of the state’s national guard troops without a declaration of war from Congress, as required by the Constitution.
Del. Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock), along with a bipartisan coalition of three Republicans and three Democrats, introduced House Bill 2732 (HB2732) on Jan. 8. McGeehan served as an Air Force intelligence officer and did tours in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The legislation would prohibit the deployment of West Virginia Guard troops in “active duty combat” unless there is a declaration of war from Congress, as required by the Constitution. It reads, in part:
The West Virginia 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, § 8, Clause 15 of the United States Constitution to explicitly call forth the West Virginia National Guard
Today, the Veterans’ Affairs and Homeland Security committee gave the measure a “Do Pass” recommendation by a vote of 15-7.
McGeehan said passage of HB2732 would send an unmistakable message to Congress.
“It would show the country, the citizens, the people who are actually being represented by the knuckleheads in Washington D.C., are tired of this war and we’re asking them to do something about it. Reclaim your dang authority. Do your job before you send our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands, fathers and mothers, to go fight in a war that has no national interest – no national security threat.”
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, West Virginia National Guard troops have participated in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo 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 at the onset of 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.” In 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
It is this limited Constitutional structure that advocates of the Defend the Guard Act seek to restore. That is, use of 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.
McGeehan said the states have a powerful opportunity to force a return to the proper Constitutional operation of war powers.
“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.”
While getting this bill passed isn’t going to be easy, it certainly is, as Daniel Webster once noted, one of the reasons state governments even exist.” In 1814 speech on the floor of Congress, Webster urged similar actions to the West Virginia 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.”
HB2732 will now head to the House Judiciary committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.