Operation Odyssey Dawn & The War Powers Act

With all the noise from the right and left on President Obama’s leading the US into the Libya “no-fly zone,” and “all necessary means” to protect Libya’s people from Moammar Gadhafi’s brutality (and it would be nice if there was a standard spelling of his name), it seemed a good time to look at an overview of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (which is commonly called the War Powers Act.)


The act was passed by Congress to re-assert it’s role in the use of US armed forces abroad in hostile situations. While the Constitution gives the President the Commander in Chief of the armed forces role (Art. II, Sec. 2), it also gives Congress the power to make declarations of war, and to raise and support the armed forces (Art. I, Sec. 8.)


In fact, various Presidents over the years have committed US forces some 125 times without the declaration of war or later Congressional approval. The formal declaration of war has only been made twice in the last 100 years, World War One and World War Two.


During the operations in Kosovo, President Clinton noted that he considered the War Powers Resolution constitutionally defective. Members of the House filed suit. The court ruled in favor of the President, holding that the Members lacked legal standing to bring the suit; this decision was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. See Campbell v. Clinton, 203 F.3d 19 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from this decision, in effect letting it stand.


This decision gives a President wide latitude to exercise the Commander in Chief power, which makes calls for impeachment seem like just a lot of partisan throat clearing.




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