CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Feb. 5, 2020) – A bill prefiled in the Wyoming House would prohibit unconstitutional foreign combat deployments of the state’s national guard troops, effectively restoring the founders’ framework for state-federal balance on the Guard.
Rep. Tyler Lindholm, (R-Crook), along with a bipartisan coalition of 14 representatives and senators filed House Bill 98 (HB98) on Feb. 4. The legislation would only allow the release of Wyoming National Guard units into active combat duty if there was a congressional declaration of war. Under the proposed law, “active duty combat” means performing the following services in the active federal service of the United States:
- Participation in an armed conflict;
- Performance of a hazardous service in a foreign state; or
- Performance of a duty through an instrumentality of war.
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, Wyoming National Guard units have participated in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, 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 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.” 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.
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.”
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 an 1814 speech on the floor of Congress where Webster urged similar actions to the Hawaii 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.”
HB98 will be introduced when the Wyoming legislature convenes on Feb 10. Once it is referred to a committee, it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative session.
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