Constitution Watch: Congressmen Sue over War Powers Act Violation

June 20th, 2011

Whatever happened to "only congress can declare war"?

The Libyan conflict entered its 90th day last Sunday, the last day for a President to order military action in a foreign country without reporting to Congress under the rules of the War Powers Act. According to the legislation, the President must end military involvement unless Congress authorizes its continuation. However, President Obama declared that he does not need to go to Congress in this situation because the “hostilities” described in the War Powers Act do not apply to the situation in Libya. Despite this position taken by the administration, there are still disagreements among the members of the President’s legal team, especially from Pentagon Counsel Jeh Johnson and Caroline Krass, acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who call America’s involvement in the NATO-led air campaign to be subject to the discretion of the War Powers Act.

In response to this lack of Congressional approval, there is a bi-partisan lawsuit being issued against President Obama that is making its way to Federal Court. The lawsuit, which has the support of anti-war congressmen Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), aims to force the President to withdraw US forces from the NATO operation in Libya, claiming that the intervention is unconstitutional due to the President’s failure to notify Congress about the involvement. So far, our intervention in the Libyan civil war is costing the taxpayers $10 million per day, and the conditions in that country continue to deteriorate as the battle has ground to a bloody stalemate. While many in Congress are hoping for a quick end to the Libyan conflict, many are still opposed to the use of our already outstretched military to end the conflict.

The War Powers Act was initially meant to curtail the authority of Presidents to launch unprovoked wars without consulting Congress first, which is constitutionally mandated. However, the last time a President asked Congress to declare war was World War II. Since that time, we have seen military involvement from Korea to Kosovo, all without a formal declaration of war. The War Powers Act was passed during the Vietnam War in an effort to curtail executive authority over the troops. It has only been haphazardly enforced, and usually subject to political maneuvering.While I commend Congress for invoking the law in regards to Libya, I wonder how many are doing this for political reasons, or are there finally members of Congress that are committed to the confines of the Constitution over partisan loyalty? War is a serious matter, and it should be handled in a manner that is responsible, and under the assurance that any military action is necessary for the defense of our borders, which Libya is not.

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