1971 September 25

Emergency Detention Act Repealed

 

President Richard Nixon on this day signed into law the repeal of the 1950 Emergency Detention Act. The law was Title II of the McCarran Act, which Congress passed over President Harry Truman’s veto on September 22, 1950. The law authorized the government, when a president had declared an “internal security emergency,” to detain individuals deemed likely to commit sabotage or treason.

President Richard Nixon, in an official Signing Statement, pointed out that the no president had ever used the law. Six detention centers had originally been created and funded by Congress, but since 1957 were either abandoned or used for other purposes. Nixon added that the existence of the law created “concern” and “fear” among Americans that it might someday be used in a situation similar to the internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although he was forced to resign as president in August 1974 because of his abuses of power, on this occasion declared that he wanted to “underscore this Nation’s abiding respect for liberty of the individual” and for due process of law.

In an odd twist, the 1950 detention act passed by Congress was more restrictive in its procedures than the secret emergency detention program created by the FBI on September 2, 1939, and still in effect in 1950. Attorney General Francis Biddle had directed Hoover to abolish the plan on July 16, 1943, but Hoover simply changed the name to Security Index and continued to maintain the list without the knowledge of his boss, the attorney general.

Read the Congressional Research Service report on the history of the detention act: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22130.pdf

Read President Nixon’s statement on signing the repeal: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=3158

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