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The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters: A Sketch

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Publication Date: June 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RS20590

Topic: Law and ethics (Military and martial law)


The Posse Comitatus Act states that: Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. 18 U.S.C. Section 1385. It reflects an American tradition that bridles at military involvement in civilian affairs.

Congress, however, has approved a number of instances where extraordinary circumstances warrant a departure from the general rule, particularly in cases where the armed forces provide civilian assistance without becoming directly involved in civilian law enforcement. This is an abridged version of The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters: The Use of the Military to Execute Civilian Law, CRS Report 95-964 in which the authorities for the statements made here may be found. This report summarizes proposed bills that could result in increased interaction between military and civil authorities. (H.R. 1986, H.R. 1815, S. 1042, S. 1043).