US group calls for law limiting presidential war powers

[JURIST] A US group co-chaired by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher [group's leadership profiles] released a report [PDF text; NYT op-ed] Tuesday calling for a new law requiring the president to consult with Congress before going to war. Called the National War Powers Commission [official website], the group said the 1973 War Powers Resolution [LII materials] was intended to serve this purpose, but that it has been ignored and may actually be unconstitutional. They called their proposed replacement for the law the "War Powers Consultation Act of 2009," and said that it would require the president to engage in "meaningful consultation" with Congress before ordering military operations that are planned to last more than a week. Underlining the importance of congressional input on these decisions, the Commission wrote:

When congressional consultation and support are obtained during times of war, our country can most effectively execute a unified response to hostilities. That is particularly important today, with the face of war changing and with non-state actors being one of the greatest threats to national security. The more the President and Congress work together to confront these threats, the more likely it is that the country can avoid political and constitutional controversies and also devise the best strategies for defending against those threats.
The group says its proposed law will be more effective than the earlier effort because it excludes questionable provisions and provides specific mechanisms for cooperation between the two branches of government. A separate committee on war powers that is sponsored by the Constitution Project [advocacy website] criticized the report and proposed resolution following their release, saying the president would still be granted too much deference. The Constitution Project's committee release its own report [PDF text] on war powers in 2005. AP has more.

The balance of war powers between the president and Congress has long been a point of contention [CFR backgrounder], with constitutional ambiguity concerning what falls under the president's purview as "Commander in Chief" and what falls under Congress's exclusive authority to "declare War." In May, a group filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that the war in Iraq violates the US Constitution because action was initiated without appropriate Congressional approval. When the 1973 War Powers Resolution was passed, about 80% of the public thought the president should get permission from Congress before going to war, and a Gallup poll [results] released Monday determined that 79% of Americans think so today.

 

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