The War Powers Resolution

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The War Powers Resolution was passed by Congress, vetoed by President Richard M. Nixon on 23 October 1973, and repassed over his veto on 7 November 1973. Enacted in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and in the midst of the Watergate crisis, its purposes were to check the “imperial presidency” by ensuring that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the president would apply to the introduction of the military into potential or actual combat.

Section 3 of the resolution requires presidential consultation with Congress before sending U.S. armed forces into hostilities. Section 4 requires the president to report to Congress within forty‐eight hours after the introduction of U.S. forces into hostilities or imminent hostilities, and every six months thereafter. Section 5 provides that within sixty days after issuing the initial report, the president must receive either a declaration of war or a specific statutory authorization, or else an extension of the sixty‐day period; if Congress refuses, the president has thirty days to remove U.S. forces from hostilities. Section 5 also allowed Congress at any time to direct removal of the forces by concurrent resolution. Since 1983, an amendment has specified that removal of forces is directed by a joint resolution that must be submitted to the president and is subject to presidential veto.

Richard Nixon and all his successors have argued that the law undercuts U.S. credibility with its allies, gives adversaries reason to doubt U.S. determination to use force, and infringes on presidential prerogatives. Presidents have routinely ignored, evaded, or otherwise minimized the reach of the law, and by the end of the Reagan administration, Congress had abandoned it.

Federal courts have indicated their doubts about the constitutionality of many provisions of the law in Crockett v. Reagan, Lowry v. Reagan, Dellums v. Bush, and Ange v. Bush. The effect of these cases, and congressional unwillingness to use the procedures in the act, has essentially nullified it, although there appears to be significant public support for the concept behind it.
[See also Civil‐Military Relations: Civilian Control of the Military; Commander in Chief, President as; Congress, War, and the Military.]


The War Power After 200 Years: Congress and the President at a Constitutional Impasse, Hearings Before the Special Subcommittee on War Powers, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, 100th Cong., 2nd Sess., 1988. The Constitutional Roles of Congress and the President in Declaring and Waging War, Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 102nd Cong., 1st Sess., 1991.
Louis Fisher , Presidential War Power, 1995.

Richard M. Pious