In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, there has been a lot of misinformation spreading quickly, including a rumor that President Trump will quarantine the entire country by using his powers under the Stafford Act. This post explains what the Stafford Act does and discusses why calling for a national quarantine may be a challenge.
What is the Stafford Act?
Although the rumor of a national quarantine are presently false, the Stafford Act is a real federal law. It allows the President to access billions in emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and disburse them to state and local governments in need. The way the Stafford Act is written encourages state and local governments to develop and implement preparedness plans so that disasters can be fought with a coordinated response.
The Stafford Act is usually called on during natural disasters. Recently, President Trump has used the Stafford Act during Hurricane Dorian and the California wildfires. However, past presidents have used the Stafford Act to combat smaller outbreaks.
Can the President Call for a National Quarantine?
While the Stafford Act is a powerful tool used to help states during moments of crisis, it cannot be used to order a national quarantine. But does the President have the power to call for a quarantine if he wants? Unfortunately, the answer is unclear.
The federal government can certainly restrict international travel through travel bans and quarantine individuals for good cause. Restricting movement within the U.S., however, is not usually a power afforded to the executive branch. The power to quarantine may therefore be left to state and local governments under our country’s constitutional framework.
Perhaps the only guarantee is that a national quarantine order would be met with a lot of lawsuits concerning its constitutionality. There’s no way to predict how a court would decide, but given the unprecedented national crisis, courts may be more inclined to defer to the federal government.
written by Alexis Guadarrama