Vermont, other states, push laws on Guard deployment
By DANIEL BARLOW Vermont Press Bureau | January 31,2009
MONTPELIER — Leading anti-war organizations announced their post-Bush administration plans in Washington last week and Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, was at the center of it all.
Fisher and his counterparts in 16 other states and Washington, D.C., will propose bills this year recommending to their state governors that they deny any further deployment of National Guard units to Iraq, the country the U.S. invaded nearly six years ago.
"Today, thousands of state National Guard members are deployed in Iraq and are serving without a proper legal chain of command," Fisher said at the Jan. 21 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, according to a YouTube video of the event.
Fisher sponsored a similar bill in 2008, but now he has the backing of more than a dozen national anti-war groups, including Veterans for Peace, Code Pink and After Downing Street.
He said last week that a new version of the bill is being written and will be introduced in the Vermont House soon.
"At this point, there is no legal basis for the continued use of the Vermont National Guard in Iraq," Fisher said.
Federal authority of the state's National Guard units began with the National Defense Act of 1933, according to Peter Teachout, a constitutional law professor at the Vermont Law School. That legislation allowed a U.S. president to call up state units for a foreign war after receiving authorization from the U.S. Congress, he explained.
But after some states — including Vermont — balked at the use of the National Guard in Nicaragua in the late 1980s, that law was amended so that states cannot restrict the deployment because they disagree with the politics behind the military mission, Teachout said.
When the U.S. Congress approved military action against Iraq in 2002 — including deploying National Guard units to that country — the legislation noted that the mission was to remove Saddam Hussein from power and implement United Nations resolutions regarding illegal weapons.
"Both of those missions have long since been fulfilled," Teachout said, adding he believes Fisher's resolution is "perfectly sound" legally. "If he can get this passed here and in several other states, it will have a significant national impact."
A spokesman for the Vermont National Guard said Tuesday that the Hatch Act of 1933 forbids them from discussing political or legislative matters. He said he did not know how many members of the state's National Guard are in Iraq, but estimated that it is now "only a handful."
Stephen Wark, the spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, said there clearly is interest in having this discussion, but the governor is reserving comment until he sees the complete language of the bill. Last year, Douglas argued that the resolution was a waste of the Legislature's time.
Teachout said passing a resolution questioning the continued use of the National Guard in Iraq would have a larger impact than just returning soldiers home.
In addition to putting the state on record as opposing then-President Bush's use of the National Guard, it would also motivate Vermont's congressional delegation to consider repealing the 1980s law that restricted states' authority over the units, he said.
"There is a sense that the law really tramples on the historic authority that states have over their National Guard," he said.
Other states that will consider similar resolutions are Alaska, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as Washington D.C.
Contact Daniel Barlow at email@example.com.