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Well, that didn’t take long.
In my column over the weekend, I recounted that, although President Trump had quite appropriately invoked the 1988 Stafford Act’s emergency declaration remedy, he had thus far resisted resorting to the Act’s major disaster declaration provision. I opined that, legally, it would be invalid to do the latter; but politically, that might not matter:
The president has floated the notion of triggering the act’s more potent declaration of a “major disaster.” Legally, that seems unlikely: The Stafford Act says such a declaration must be requested by the affected state(s), and its terms are confined to physical infrastructure damaged by natural catastrophes (e.g., hurricanes and earthquakes), not by pathogens that infect people but do not destroy structures.
Yet, if states hard hit by COVID-19 were to make the request, and the president responded with additional tranches of federal assistance, how punctilious do we really think Americans would be about statutory construction?
Sure enough, by the end of the weekend, at the urging of the relevant state officials, the president had declared major disasters existed in New York, Washington and California.