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What is the War Powers Act?

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Quick Answer

The War Powers Act of 1941, passed in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, granted the United States government increased power. Specifically, the president was given authority to override certain laws and constitutional checks and balances.

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Full Answer

The War Powers Act was a form of emergency law. It gave the president greater control over the executive branch of the government, independent government agencies and certain companies working for or contracting with the government. Among other powers, mail between the United States and foreign countries could be seized, inspected and censored.

The act was slated to expire six months after the end of World War II but was supplanted by the Second War Powers Act of 1942. This act gave the government even more powers, such as the right to seize land for military use, and it granted the FBI the right to use census data to locate and detain Japanese-Americans. Naturalization standards were also made less strict for immigrants serving in the armed forces. The powers granted by this act expired after World War II ended.

The name "War Powers Act" is sometimes used to refer to the War Powers Resolution, a 1973 law that actually restricts the power of the president to declare war.

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