WASHINGTON, September 22, 2020 — In anticipation of possible unlawful militias intimidating voters at the polls, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) has released fact sheets on unlawful militias for all 50 states.  The fact sheets provide key information about lawful and unlawful militias, state laws prohibiting private militias and paramilitary activity, and what to do if citizens see groups of armed individuals near polling places.

“Local officials, law enforcement, and voters need to know that groups of armed individuals have no legal authority under federal or state law to show up at voting locations claiming to protect or patrol the polls,” said Mary McCord, Legal Director of ICAP and a former Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice.  “Given the increasing self-deployment of private unlawful militias during protests against racial injustice across the country, intimidating peaceful protesters and heightening the risk of violence—sometimes with tragic results—communities must prepare for similar unlawful private militia activity and intimidation in connection with the election.”

As the fact sheets explain, the U.S. Constitution and state laws use the term “militia” to refer to all able-bodied residents between certain ages who may be called forth by the government when there is a specific need; but private individuals have no legal authority to activate themselves for militia duty outside the authority of the federal or state government.  The fact sheets also explain that the Second Amendment does not protect private militia activity, pointing to decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1886 and 2008 making clear that the Second Amendment “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations.”

All 50 states prohibit private, unauthorized groups from engaging in activities reserved for the state militia, including law enforcement activities.  The fact sheets include these state-specific laws.  They also include guidance for what individuals can do if they see what appear to be militia members near a polling place, and direct that they report their observations to the Election Protection helpline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683), with which ICAP is coordinating its efforts.

The fact sheets were produced with the pro bono assistance of the law firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Jones Day, and O’Melveny and Myers.  These firms are part of a coalition of lawyers and law firms that have offered to work pro bono with communities facing threats of political violence at protests, rallies, and other public events.  ICAP recently published a guidebook, Protests and Public Safety: A Guide for Cities and Citizens, as a resource for local jurisdictions, concerned residents, and activists across the country to protect public safety while fostering constitutional rights.

Contact: Megan Royer, mroyer@gpg.com / (704) 995-0765

About Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP)

The mission of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection is to use the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. The Institute, based at Georgetown University Law Center, draws on expert litigators, savvy litigation strategy, and the constitutional scholarship of Georgetown to vindicate individuals’ rights and protect America’s constitutional way of life.