The United States is in a state of emergency: 28 national ones and many more local. This might come as a surprise, but it isn’t new—this month marks the start of our 39th year in a continuous emergency state. What is an emergency, and how did we get here? This post explains.

The 1976 National Emergencies Act requires Congress to meet every six months to end the state of emergency. If you want to know why Democracy is failing in the United States, read no further than the following…

Not once has Congress met to consider such a vote. It is not exactly clear why. But the provision would have lost much of its intended force even had Congress complied: It originally allowed Congress to end an emergency by concurrent resolution (that is, if majorities in both houses voted to end it). But in 1983, the Supreme Court declared this sort of legislative veto over presidential action unconstitutional. A 1985 amendment to the act now requires a joint resolution to end the emergency, meaning that any Congressional vote to end the emergency is subject to the president’s veto, which may be overridden only by two-thirds majorities of both houses.