The National Emergencies Act (Pub.L. 94–412, 90 Stat. 1255, enacted September 14, 1976, codified at 50 U.S.C. § 1601-1651) is a United States federal law passed to stop open-ended states of national emergency and formalize the power of Congress to provide certain checks and balances on the emergency powers of the President. The Act of Congress imposes certain procedural formalities on the President when invoking such powers. The perceived need for the law arose from the scope and number of laws granting special powers to the executive in times of national emergency.
Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, presidents asserted the power to declare emergencies without limiting their scope or duration, without citing the relevant statutes, and without congressional oversight. The Supreme Court in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer limited what a president could do in such an emergency, but did not limit the emergency declaration power itself. A 1973 Senate investigation found (in Senate Report 93-549) that four declared emergencies remained in effect: the 1933 banking crisis with respect to the hoarding of gold, a 1950 emergency with respect to the Korean War, a 1970 emergency regarding a postal workers strike, and a 1971 emergency in response to inflation. Many provisions of statutory law are contingent on a declaration of national emergency, as many as 500 by one count. It was due in part to concern that a declaration of "emergency" for one purpose should not invoke every possible executive emergency power, that Congress in 1976 passed the National Emergencies Act.
Presidents have continued to use their emergency authority subject to the provisions of the act, with 32 national emergencies declared between 1976 and 2001. Most of these were for the purpose of restricting trade with certain foreign entities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) (50 U.S.C. 1701-1707).
A prior Senate investigation had found 470 provisions of federal law that a President might invoke via a declaration of emergency. The Act repealed several of these provisions and stated that prior emergency declarations would no longer give force to those provisions that remained. Congress did not attempt to revoke any outstanding emergency declarations per se, as these remained the President's prerogative under Article II of the Constitution.
The Act authorized the President to activate emergency provisions of law via an emergency declaration on the conditions that the President specifies the provisions so activated and notifies Congress. An activation would expire if the President expressly terminated the emergency, or did not renew the emergency annually, or if each house of Congress passed a resolution terminating the emergency. After presidents objected to this "Congressional termination" provision on separation of powers grounds, it was replaced in 1985 with termination by an enacted joint resolution. The Act also requires the President and executive agencies to maintain records of all orders and regulations that proceed from use of emergency authority, and to regularly report the cost incurred to Congress.
Certain emergency authorities were exempted from the act at the time of its passage:
The list of exceptions has from time to time been revised. For example, Public Law 95-223 (1977) repealed the emergency clause of 12 USC 95(a) and arranged for its authority to expire according to the normal provisions of the NEA.