Martial law

In the US, would it be possible for the President to declare Martial Law?

In other words: If Something Bad [TM] were to happen, and the President were to declare a State of Martial Law. What would prevent him from seizing power from the Congress and the Courts?

As near as I can tell, the Constitution expressly forbids any such action, but I could be wrong.

The Constitution doesn’t mention the words martial law, and it was generally assumed to be a power of the President in the early republic. Lincoln declared martial law during the Civil War.

After the war, however, in Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866), the Supreme Court granted Milligan a writ of habeas corpus saying that:

In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act:

No President since has declared martial law. If one tried to seize Congress and the Courts with the help of the military it would be a coup, not a legal act. That’s such a totally hypothetical situation that nothing meaningful could be said about it today.

The Gun Owners of America, whoever they might be, have a problem with the government and dislike the idea of the feds using the military against civilians. They’ve put together a remarkably comprehensive and admittedly straightforward and even-handed discussion of all the instances of martial law and government use of soldiers against civilians here. It’s well worth reading.