On Monday, Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, introduced to Congress a bill which, if passed, would authorize the president of the United States to issue letters of marque and reprisal to seize Russian property.
The eccentric proposal comes amid international furor over Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which began Feb. 23.
“Corrupt Russian oligarchs have enabled Putin’s war,” the lawmaker tweeted. “That’s why I have introduced legislation to allow U.S. citizens to SEIZE yachts and jets of sanctioned Russians.”
Formerly, letters of marque and reprisal allowed privately owned and operated seafaring vessels to carry out acts of war, which became known as privateering — not quite piracy, but pretty darn close.
“Russian yachts are already on the move and if the Biden Administration and our allies in Europe fail to act quickly these vessels will soon be out of our reach,” Gooden said in a statement to The Hill.
The bill, which would allow Americans to seize property on behalf of the U.S. government, would be a return to a common practice during the War of 1812, but it has not been used since.
Letters of marque have largely been rendered obsolete by international treaties. However, the measure has never been removed from the U.S. Constitution. The ability to grant letters of marque is found in Article 1 of the Constitution, listed as an enumerated power of Congress.
“While changes in warfare and developments in international law have largely vanquished their role, Congressional authority to issue such letters remains, having never been repealed,” wrote Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Still in a thesis on the topic.
It’s also unlikely that the law was meant to encompass the leisure-craft of oligarchs back in the 18th century when the Constitution was written. But such details are immaterial to Gooden, who at any moment may board Russian President Vladimir Putin’s supposed 270-foot superyacht and proclaim, “I am the captain now.”
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Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.