A bipartisan group of congressmen represented by law professor Jonathan Turley filed suit in federal court in Washington today to try to invalidate the legal underpinnings of U.S. involvement in Libya.
The lawsuit is a rare attempt to litigate the war powers of the U.S. Constitution, including Congress’ power to declare war and the president’s authority as commander in chief of the armed forces. It comes as the Obama administration is under pressure from an even broader group of lawmakers who want to know more about its rationale for armed force in Libya.
In a 38-page complaint (PDF), the congressmen ask for an injunction and declaratory relief to prevent President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from going to war without a congressional declaration. They also ask the court to invalidate the idea that the president can go to war based on the authority of the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), an outspoken war opponent, is listed as the lead plaintiff in the case. He’s joined by six Republicans and three Democrats, including Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said that DOJ lawyers will review the complaint and determine how to proceed in court. The department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a memo (PDF) on the issue in April, and administration lawyers told The New York Times in a story today that the Libya conflict is so limited that it falls outside the scope of the federal War Powers Resolution.
Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, said the intent of the Constitution’s framers is clear. “While there are many uncertain questions under the Constitution, this is not one of them. The Framers spoke repeatedly and forcibly of their desire to bar presidents from committing the nation to war without congressional authorization and inserted an express limitation into Article I,” Turley said in a news release.