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A scene in the TV show "Designated survivor" shows the President (Kiefer Sutherland) arresting a state governor for treason.

Is this really a thing? Can the POTUS really arrest citizens for crimes? And are there limits on this? Is it (as with Presidential Pardons) something which applies only to federal/serious crimes, or can Trump arrest a teenager for jaywalking if he feels like it?

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There is no constitutional provision which grants the President such power. I am not aware of any provision of federal law which grants such power, nor of any case where a real president has exercised such a power. Of course, the President is a citizen, and any citizen may make a Citizen's arrest Particularly for a felony. (See also this FindLaw page on the subject.) And of course, as the head of the executive department, the President could order someone who clearly has powers of arrest to make an arrest, although such an order would not be valid in the absence of legal cause to make an arrest.

A comment called atention to 10 USC §252 which provides:

Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.

The history for this section dates from 1861. A note indicates that a prior version was the basis of Executive order 10730, sending federal forces into Little Rock, AK in 1957 to enforce school integration there.

However, this section does not explicitly increase the arrest powers of anyone, and does not grant the President personally any power of arrest.

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  • 10 U.S.C. §§ 332 allows the President to personally direct the armed forces or any federal agency (which includes the US Marshals) to intervene in an "unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States" that "make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings". Arresting a governor for treason, or at least violating a direct order from the President exercising his wartime/emergency powers, probably falls under that jurisdiction. – TylerH Dec 18 '20 at 16:49
  • I'd make the above comment a counter-answer to this one, but don't have time to look up the specific details about what exact measures went into effect after the attack on the US Capitol or the measures enacted by the Kirkman administration between that point and the governor's arrest, which is info I feel necessary for a fully-formed answer. If someone else wants to take the above info and run with it, feel free. – TylerH Dec 18 '20 at 16:50
  • @TylerH 10 U.S. Code § 332 is "Friendly foreign countries; international and regional organizations: defense institution capacity building " and contains noi such provision. Perhaps it is in some other section. I question whether the details of what was done in a work of fiction are needed to answer what the actual law is. – David Siegel Dec 18 '20 at 17:02
  • it is based on reality, so it depends a great deal on what reality-based steps have been taken in the show to allow for certain actions. For example, even though it is a show, the President would not have the authority to send the Army into a state unless he suspended the Posse Commitatus Act, which itself has a specific procedure. – TylerH Dec 18 '20 at 17:33
  • Regarding the Code, I am referring to this govinfo.gov/app/details/USCODE-2010-title10/… -- it's quite possible that subsequent revisions to the code have moved that provision elsewhere; they re-order code all the time. – TylerH Dec 18 '20 at 17:34

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