Why We Need An Emergency Session of Congress

Nov 12, 2022 | PDA Blog

Mike Hersh, PDA Communications Director

Why We Need An Emergency Session of Congress

By Mike Hersh, PDA Communications Director

The United States of America currently faces several grave crises, any one of which would necessitate immediate, emergency action by the federal government. These include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic and related heath, economic, and social challenges;
  • Widespread violations of voting rights and threats to our political system;
  • Political violence, domestic terrorism, and other social and political strife;
  • The Climate Emergency and other environmental harm;  and
  • Other threats to our lives, well-being, basic rights, and civil society.

We cannot afford ongoing delays or deadlocks. We need quick and effective action to address these crises. Sadly, the still-uncertain outcome of last week’s elections ensures endless divisiveness and obstruction that has delayed, diluted, and prevented effective resolution of these crises.

Exacerbating this increasingly toxic and unsettled political climate, an increasingly divisive, radical but narrow majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has terminated or put at imminent risk of termination several bedrock, long-standing, basic human rights.

The Court—often by a razor-thin 5 to 4 votes—has repeatedly violated the U.S. Constitution and endangered the fundamental order of our society. By ignoring stare decisis and overruling the political branches of government, the Court has struck down laws and precedents, and thereby invalidated several Constitutional rights.

Narrow Court majorities have been especially hostile to well-established Constitutional rights to bodily autonomy, as well as to voting rights, government ethics, and other strictly political matters. These and other rights will remain at risk unless and until the President and Congress act decisively to reassert fundamental Constitutional principles.

Dozens of times during U.S. History, Presidents have called the Congress into Emergency Session to address similar crises. Today, the President and the Congress have left critically important business left undone, and any delay in addressing these crises intolerably risks causing irreparable damage to our society as well as preventable loss of innocent life. (See: “Overview: Accomplishments Achieved During Emergency Sessions,” and other Supporting Citations, below.)

Few would argue that current emergencies match the severity of the Civil War, the Great Depression, or a World War. Still, there’s little doubt that the needs for an Emergency Session of Congress now are at least as dire as in 1947 and 1948—and for the same reasons. (See: Trumans Emergency Sessions in 1947 and 1948” below.)

Post War America had weathered the economic and geopolitical crises of the previous decade, but instability and potential for chaos remained. A war-weary electorate had empowered a reactionary Congress that was poised to wreck economic havoc and threatened to reverse the hard-won progress of the New Deal.

Seeking to resolve several crises neglected by a “Do Nothing Congress,” President Truman called the House and Senate into an Emergency Session. Even some Republicans rose to the occasion by voting to enact several necessary emergency measures, thereby completing essential “unfinished business.”

Our current predicament is no different. Our nation has yet to resolve serious “unfinished business” at least as imperative today as 75 years ago. We the People of the United States overwhelmingly support, demand, and require clear and incontrovertible legal protections of their rights to fully participate in the democratic process; to their bodily autonomy, family planning, and marriage equality; and other basic human rights.

Congress and the President must act expeditiously to defend and protect the Constitution, the People, and our rights from theocratic tyrannical overreach by judicial activists on the Supreme Court—both past and impending. Therefore, we urge President Joseph Biden to call the United States Congress into an Emergency Session in order to expeditiously  address current and emergent crises.

Specific Actions Necessary During An Emergency Session

We call upon President Biden and the Congress to take the following and all other appropriate, necessary actions during an Emergency Session of Congress—operating under special orders if necessary—for resolution of current and impending crises.

They must act to restore and rebalance the Judicial Branch by confirming all 57 pending federal judicial nominees, and by reversing dangerous, unconstitutional Supreme Court rulings. This, by codifying the basic human right to bodily autonomy, (as defined in the Roe v. Wade precedent, overturning the Dobbs v. Jackson decision), and by similarly restoring and/or preemptively protecting other basic human rights and freedoms through legislation.

These rights include marriage equality, access to contraception, and other longstanding legal precedents and laws that have enshrined and advanced the right to due process and right to freedom from undue government interference in our most private matters, as well as other basic civil, human, and equal rights under law.

(See “Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute, Doctrine of Stare Decisis, U.S. Constitution Annotated, U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1,” and “CNBC: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade” below.)

For several decades and several  generations, an uninterrupted series of dynamic Supreme Court sessions have established and upheld these newly-endangered rights, which have—until recently—upheld our credo: “With liberty and justice for all.”

The President and the Congress must act to preserve these rights, liberties, and freedoms in order to maintain the carefully-crafted vital consensus that has established the legal, social, and other foundations of our society we’ve enjoyed throughout our daily lives.

They must also act to restore and protect our virtually-universally supported and essential rights to fully participate in our democracy as articulated in the Voting Rights Act, (nullifying the wrongfully-decided Shelby County v. Holder decision that eviscerated previous duly-enacted legislation).

This, by enacting the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and by protecting voting rights, as well as the integrity and security of our elections and government by enacting the For The People Act. (See explanation of legislation below.)

Additionally, the President and the Congress must act to ensure the ongoing, orderly operations of the Federal government by agreeing to increase the “debt ceiling.” That is, authorizing the expenditure of all such funds as have already been or will be appropriated until after the 2024 Elections.

This, to prevent an impending economic and fiscal crisis via default and other fiscal crises that some Republican leaders have recently threatened to inflict upon the United States. (See “Democrats have the chance to prevent an economic calamity,” below.)

Furthermore, during an Emergency Session, the Congress and the President must enact all other policies, laws, and regulations necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Climate Crisis, domestic terrorism and political violence, housing and nutritional insecurity, and all other current and emergent crises.

We the People of the United States of America cannot wait until a new, possibly delayed, and likely even more bitterly-divided Congress convenes in 2023 and slowly begins to consider action. The ongoing loss of life and ever-increasing risks of irreparable damage are too dire.

Rather than working to compromise and resolve the political impasse, too many elected officials have put narrow partisan interests above the national interest. These divisions must be set aside to do the people’s business.

Dozens of times in our history, the President and the Congress have acted expeditiously to meet and solve emergencies and crises. Today, they must perform their most solemn duty once again.

In conclusion, The current severe and worsening crises require swift and effective action. The President and Congress must enact necessary policies through an Emergency Session without delay, before even more grievous and irreparable harm ensues.

Sources and Supporting Authorities:

Judicial Authority and Stare Decisis

U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1: “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”

“Adherence to precedent ordinarily limits and shapes the approach of courts to decision of a presented question. Stare decisis is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right . . . . This is commonly true even where the error is a matter of serious concern, provided correction can be had by legislation.” [Emphasis added.]

See: “Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute, Doctrine of Stare Decisis, U.S. Constitution Annotated, U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1,”

Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade

“The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S. in 1973.”

“The courts controversial but expected ruling gives individual states the power to set their own abortion laws without concern of running afoul of Roe, which had permitted abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.”

See: “Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of federal abortion rights,” CNBC, Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger, June 24 2022

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

“[E]stablishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices may take effect. Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.”

The For The People Act

“[A]ddresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.”

Republicans Threaten To Cause Unprecedented Economic Calamity

“The US is currently projected to hit its existing debt ceiling sometime in 2023, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. While raising the ceiling should be relatively straightforward, its become a contentious process—and an opportunity for the minority party to extract policy concessions or score political points. Both parties have used debt ceiling increases to their advantage, but Republicans have done so much more frequently in recent years.”

“In 2011, for example, Republicans balked on suspending the debt limit and refused to move forward until President Barack Obama agreed to key spending cuts, concessions they ultimately secured. The US got so close to default that year, however, that Standard and Poors downgraded the countrys credit rating.”

“Political experts note that this disagreement marked one of the first times it seemed like lawmakers were actually willing to go over the edge, despite the economic chaos that could ensue. Were the US to actually default, that would likely downgrade the dollar and lead to a recession.”

“While a default has never happened, Republicansbehavior in 2011—and their current rhetoric—suggests that theyre more open to the possibility and taking such fights to that point.”

See: “Democrats have the chance to prevent an economic calamity

By addressing the debt ceiling in the lame-duck session, they could avoid a potential crisis next year” Li October 25, 2022

Overview: Accomplishments Achieved During Emergency Sessions

“[U.S. Presidents have called] the Senate into Emergency Session on 46 occasions to ratify treaties, confirm Cabinet nominations and the like. On 27 other occasions, both chambers were called in, usually to deal with bigger crises such as war and economic turmoil.”

“Perhaps the most famous Emergency Session dealt with the former. On Independence Day in 1861, four months after Congress had adjourned in … Abraham Lincoln summoned legislators to deal with the outbreak of the Civil War. As the 44 assembled Senators gathered (21 were absent), Lincoln set a special tone:

Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as authorized by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary subject of legislation.

“Those present then proceeded to swear in two compatriots from the newly admitted state of Kansas. During the following 34 days, legislators passed 67 major public laws.”

“Franklin D. Roosevelt … first brought Congress out of recess during the Great Depression to pass emergency banking and relief measures; that Emergency Session eventually became known as the ‘first hundred days’ of the New Deal. He then summoned Congress in 1937 to enact legislation establishing work minimum wages and maximum hours and called it back in 1939 following the German invasion of Poland.”

“President Harry Truman also used multiple Emergency Session, reconvening legislators in 1947 and 1948 in the name of unfinished domestic business.”

See: “A Brief History of Congressional Emergency Session,” Time Magazine, Katy Steinmetz, August 10, 2010,,8599,2009480,00.html

Trumans Emergency Sessions in 1947 and 1948

“[In 1947] President Harry S. Truman asked Congress to consider emergency funding for Austria, France, and Italy for the winter due to their fragile political and economic conditions. He also asked Congress to authorize measures for controlling inflation through a 10-point plan. Although Congress approved funding for the European nations, it could not reach a consensus about containing inflation.”

“The House rejected much of Trumans plan for mandatory inflationary controls, and instead passed a substitute bill (S. J. Res 167) that contained several provisions similar to Trumans proposals.”

“The legislation provided for voluntary agreements from industries to reduce prices, extended the governments power to control exports and allocate transportation resources, and authorized the promotion of food conservation and international agricultural production.”


Clarence Brown, an Ohio Republican, however, defended portions of Trumans plan as a ‘just and fair measure designed … to meet the emergency until further action can be taken,’ when Congress formally re-convened for another session in January 1948.”

“[Again in 1948] President Harry Truman delivered a message to a special Joint Session of Congress. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the President ‘may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them.’”

“Extraordinary sessions have been called by the Chief Executive to urge the Congress to focus on important national issues. In his address, Truman argued that citizens ‘demand legislative action by their Government . . . to check inflation and the rising cost of living, and second, to help in meeting the acute housing shortage.’”

“Truman offered an eight-point plan to curb inflation, resolve a national housing shortage, and provide federal assistance to children, minimum-wage workers, and senior citizens. He also asked Congress to act on legislation concerning energy, federal employee salaries, and civil rights.”

See: Historical Highlights: President Harry Trumans extraordinary session of 1947, December 19, 1947

Also See: Historical Highlights: President Harry S. Trumans special Joint Session on inflation, housing, and civil rights, July 27, 1948–Truman-s-special-Joint-Session-on-inflation,-housing,-and-civil-rights/

1861: Lincoln’s Emergency Session to Preserve the Union

“After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, [President Abraham] Lincoln took measures aimed at a military response including calling forth militia, blockading Confederate ports, and adding to the Army and Navy.

Lincoln also authorized the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland along train lines connecting Washington to Philadelphia.”

“In Ex parte Merryman (1861), Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled in a circuit court that Lincoln lacked the power to suspend habeas corpus because the power could only be exercised by Congress. For Taney, the location of the Suspension Clause in Article One of the Constitution signified that the power was meant to be legislative not executive.”

“Lincoln called Congress into Emergency Session, and, in a special message, he reported his actions since the Sumter attack. In the passage below, Lincoln defends himself against Taneys charge that he violated the Constitution. Lincoln makes two arguments, that the Constitution must have provided for occasions when Congress was out of session, and the presidents oath of office authorizes the president to violate one law in order to preserve all of the laws.”

See: Abraham Lincoln’sMessage to Congress in Emergency Session” Presidential Message, July 4, 1861. From Teaching American History.

1917: Wilson’s Emergency Session: A World “Safe for Democracy”

“On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world ‘be made safe for democracy.’ Four days later, Congress voted to declare war, with six senators and fifty House members dissenting.”

‘It is a fearful thing,’ he told Congress in his speech, ‘to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.’”

“Wilson did not exaggerate; in 1917 the war in Europe had already lasted two-and-a-half bloody years and had become one of the most murderous conflicts in human history.”

“By the time the war ended a year and a half later, an entire generation was decimated—France alone lost half its men between the ages of twenty and thirty-two. The maimed bodies of millions of European men who survived bore mute testimony to the wars savagery.”

See: Sixty-Fifth Congress, 1 Session, Senate Document No. 5. Cited by History Matters Survey Course on the Web

1933: FDRs Emergency Session: The “100 Days”

“The Emergency Session of the 73rd Congress, which began on March 9 with enactment of the emergency banking act, came to a close on the morning of June 16, 1933, shortly after the passage by both houses of the national industrial recovery bill and final approval of a $3,610,000,000 measure to finance the new undertakings initiated during the session.”

“The closing hours were marked by a sharp contest between the President and the Senate over the limitations to be imposed upon the authority previously granted to effect reductions in veterans’ compensation.”

“The Senate capitulated just before adjournment, approving, by a margin of nine votes, an administration compromise it had previously rejected. A last communication from the President thanked the Congress for ‘a more sincere and wholehearted cooperation’ between the legislative and executive branches—which ‘in most cases transcended party lines’—than had been witnessed in many years.”

“Almost-the entire time of the Emergency Session was taken up with emergency measures. The only outstanding pieces of permanent legislation upon which final action was taken were the administration’s securities bill, the Tennessee Valley Authority bill, the Wagner employment exchange bill, and the Glass-Steagall bank reform bill.”

“The 73rd Congress—under the terms of the new 20th amendment to the Constitution—will not meet again until January 3, 1934, unless called into a second Emergency Session at an earlier date.”

See: “Congressional Quarterly/CQ Researcher Record of the Seventy-Third Congress First (Special) Session,”

“With the unemployment rate at 25 percent and the banks on the verge of collapse, Franklin Roosevelt called the first of three Emergency Session during his presidency. On its first day, Congress unanimously passed Roosevelts banking bill without even reading it.”

“What followed was the greatest flurry of legislative productivity in American history, known as the ‘100 Days.’ Congress passed all 15 historic pieces of legislation that the president proposed.”

See: “The Emergency Session of Congress that changed America,” Al Jazeera,  Claire Gordon,

1939: FDR’s Emergency Session to Arrest Fascist Aggression

“[L]ess than three weeks after the outbreak of European hostilities in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session of Congress to open a Special Session which he had called to revise U.S. neutrality law.”

“Reflecting the beliefs of many Americans and a determined group of isolationists in Congress that U.S. banks and munitions-makers had embroiled the country in World War I, Congress had passed a series of neutrality acts in the 1930s aimed at keeping the U.S. out of another conflict.”

“These laws prohibited the sale and transportation of war munitions and armaments, and eventually the extension of loans, to belligerent countries. In his address, Roosevelt assured Congress and the American public that he sought to keep the country out of the war but that he believed efforts to ‘legislate’ neutrality ran counter to American interests.”

‘Destiny first made us, with our sister nations on this hemisphere, joint heirs of European culture,’ Roosevelt waxed. ‘Fate seems now to compel us to assume the task of helping to maintain in the Western World a citadel wherein that civilization may be kept alive.’”

“Weeks of pitched debate ensued between allies of the Roosevelt administration and isolationists such as Representative Hamilton Fish of New York. On November 2, the House repealed provisions of the 1935 act by a vote of 243 to 181. Roosevelt signed the measure into law on November 4.”

See: “Historical Highlights: An Emergency Session to Revise U.S. Neutrality Law,” September 21, 1939,

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