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What is martial law and how does it differ from what’s happening now?

Amid all the closings and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus in the United States, it’s unfortunate but not unexpected that false information is being sent out on social media.

On Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio apparently had had enough, tweeting “COMPLETELY FALSE” pertaining to rumors the U.S. is now under martial law. Well, he sort of tweeted that. Rubio misspelled “martial,” which started “Marshall Law” and photos of Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, trending.

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All that aside, Rubio is correct. We are not under martial law. 

Martial law, according to Merriam-Webster, is:

  1. the law applied in occupied territory by the military authority of the occupying power 
  2. the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety

Gov. Brian Kemp has declared an unprecedented public health emergency for Georgia that gives him broad powers to deploy “all available resources” to help contain the spread of coronavirus. While Kemp has the authority to declare martial law in Georgia, that’s not what he has done. There is no military involved in Kemp’s order. 

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Martial law, Encyclopedia.com states, “contemplates some use of military force. To a varying extent, depending on the martial law order, government military personnel have the authority to make and enforce civil and criminal laws. Certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement.”

In the United States, martial law has been instituted on the national level only once, during the Civil War, and on a regional level only once, during World War II, Encyclopedia.com states. Otherwise, it has been limited to the states.

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