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I know the President can order the troops into battle "in defense of the nation", but can he order the troops into manual labor? I'm skeptical over this claim of presidential power from Politico

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the U.S. military will construct his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, insisting that it will be built "one way or the other" while seemingly walking back threats to shut down the government if Congress fails to appropriate for the wall by the end of the week.

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    Worth asking on Legal.SE rather than here? – Oddthinking Dec 24 '18 at 8:07
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    Isn't this one of the jobs of the Army Corp of Engineers? – DJohnM Dec 24 '18 at 17:26
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    In particular, can he order the military to construct the wall, even if Congress has neither approved the construction nor authorized funds for that purpose? – Nate Eldredge Dec 24 '18 at 19:20
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"Can he order the troops into manual labor?" Yes.

For example, according to the Military Vehicle Preservation Association:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the construction of the “Alaska Canada Military Highway" on February 11, 1942.

...

Approximately 11,000 service men worked exhausting 12 to 16-hour days in harsh and dangerous conditions to complete the road in record time.

Additionally, there is 10 U.S.C. § 2808(a):

In the event of a declaration of war or the declaration by the President of a national emergency in accordance with the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) that requires use of the armed forces, the Secretary of Defense, without regard to any other provision of law, may undertake military construction projects, and may authorize the Secretaries of the military departments to undertake military construction projects, not otherwise authorized by law that are necessary to support such use of the armed forces. Such projects may be undertaken only within the total amount of funds that have been appropriated for military construction, including funds appropriated for family housing, that have not been obligated

and 33 U.S. Code § 2293(a):

In the event of a declaration of war or a declaration by the President of a national emergency in accordance with the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) that requires or may require use of the Armed Forces, the Secretary, without regard to any other provision of law, may (1) terminate or defer the construction, operation, maintenance, or repair of any Department of the Army civil works project that he deems not essential to the national defense, and (2) apply the resources of the Department of the Army’s civil works program, including funds, personnel, and equipment, to construct or assist in the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense.

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    A modern statutory justification might work better than citing a 76-year-old wartime incident. – jeffronicus Dec 24 '18 at 16:39
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    @jeffronicus the Constitution isn’t modern, but we shouldn’t dismiss it just because it’s old. – DavePhD Dec 24 '18 at 17:22
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    A potentially important difference is that the construction of the Alaska Canada Military Highway was, as far as I can tell, authorized by Congress, which allocated funds for that purpose. This is not the case with the border wall. – Nate Eldredge Dec 24 '18 at 19:18
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    @NateEldredge My answer is only to the question about whether the president can order manual labor. He or she would need a source of funding for construction materials. There is an article today about such funding here: usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/12/24/… – DavePhD Dec 24 '18 at 21:14
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    There is the minor point that militaries work under different rules during wartime. – GeoffAtkins Dec 26 '18 at 16:40
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Yes. Congress has given the President the ability to declare a state of emergency to address crises that require minutes or hours, not weeks or months, to respond.

This gives the President broad powers.

33 U.S. Code § 2293 says:

In the event of a declaration of war or a declaration by the President of a national emergency [...] the Secretary, without regard to any other provision of law, may [...] apply the resources of the Department of the Army’s civil works program, including funds, personnel, and equipment, to construct or assist in the construction, operation, maintenance, and repair of authorized civil works, military construction, and civil defense projects that are essential to the national defense.


The President remains accountable to the other two branches of government.

They might intercede as there are limits to what the Department of Defence may and may not do at the border.

There are precedents for US presidents being stopped - for example, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer.

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    The "minutes or hours" part of the answer is incorrect. There are states of emergency still in effect dating back to the Carter and Clinton administrations. washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/19/… – DavePhD Jan 10 at 15:05
  • -1: This is a serious question, but this doesn't read as a serious answer. It is largely based on speculation about how Congress and the courts will react, and it isn't clear the references support the claims. – Oddthinking Jan 10 at 15:34
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    @Oddthinking - I think it's a certainty that this will get bogged down in the courts if attempted. I also don't think there's much doubt that declaring a National Emergency based on a fictitious crisis that does not actually exist will find at least one federal circuit court judge who will put an injunction on the action, even if SCOTUS eventually decides the President gets broad latitude in determining what emergency is legitimate or not. The answer might be a bit glib in tone, but I don't think it's not serious. – PoloHoleSet Jan 10 at 19:02
  • @Oddthinking Unless someone here is in the administration and knows their next moves, no one else's answer is going to properly cover what will happen in the future. I have cited a huge amount of precedent, government agencies and pundits to help justify my prediction, and as PoloHoleSet says, all of these things have a really high probability of occurring in some form or another. – Carduus Jan 10 at 21:43
  • I made some major edits to this answer, to prevent having to delete it. The glib comments about prostitution were unhelpful, unreferenced and wrong. (It would be war crime.) Many of the references did NOT directly support the claims being made. Removed the speculation about what will happen. – Oddthinking Jan 11 at 0:57

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