Gov. Norm Bangerter and Utah National Guard officials agree with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that the federal government may order state National Guard troops to take part in peacetime training abroad without a governor's consent.
Bangerter had feared that a ruling in favor of giving governor's veto power over sending troops to Central America and other hot spots could jeopardize federal support for the National Guard, said Bud Scruggs, his chief of staff.Almost $84 million is spent annually in Utah to operate the state's Army and Air National Guard units. Most of that money - about $80 million comes from the federal government.
"We thought it would have seriously undermined the program and might have destroyed it," Scruggs said. "The guard is just a tremendous asset for us to have to assist in state emergencies."
The Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld a 1986 federal law challenged by Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota, which also had been opposed by former Democratic presidential candidate, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts.
Dukakis had denounced the Reagan administration for what he termed a "failed and illegal" policy of supporting Nicaraguan Contra rebels and said sending troops to Central American was an attempt to intimidate Nicaragua.
But the state legal officer for the Utah National Guard, Lt. Col. Barrie Vernon, said troops need to train where they may be called upon someday to fight.
"We don't want to have to explain to mothers and wives that their sons and husbands were killed because the first time they went to Honduras was to fight, not to train," Vernon said.
The issue raised by the Minnesota governor dealt with states' rights, not foreign policy. Perpich argued that the Constitution gives states veto power over peacetime training missions for National Guard members.
The court ruled on a 1986 federal law known as the Montgomery Amendment that limits the power of governors to withhold consent to federal deployment of National Guard units.
That amendment, named for its sponsor, Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery, D-Miss., prohibits any governor from withholding consent to a guard unit's active duty outside the country because of an objection to the location, purpose or schedule of the duty.
"The congressional power to call forth the militia may in appropriate cases supplement its broader power to raise armies and provide for the common defense and general welfare, but it does not limit those powers," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.
Members of the Utah National Guard participated last year in engineering projects in Honduras and Panama. An engineer detachment is scheduled to return to Honduras between July 21 and Aug. 4.
The Utah National Guard has not yet been called on active duty this year but last year helped fight forest fires throughout the state and handled such non-emergencies as fighting a Mt. Pleasant landfill fire and herding buffalo off Antelope Island.