War Powers Suit Dismissed

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton dismissed Kucinich v. Obama, a suit filed by ten members of Congress alleging that President Obama’s use of military force in Libya was unlawful as it violated the War Powers Act and lacked Congressional authorization.   Judge Walton held the members of Congress lacked standing to bring the challenge, as they had ample legislative means at their disposal to oppose the President’s use of military force.  Judge Walton noted a “long line of cases” that “all but foreclosed the idea that a member of Congress can assert legislative standing to maintain a suit against a member of the Executive Branch,” including a relative recent case involving a suit by Rep. Kucinich against then-President Bush. Judge Walton added in a footnote:

Interestingly, Representative Kucinich, the lead plaintiff in Kucinich v. Bush, the case in which these words were written, is the lead plaintiff in this case in which members of Congress are again attempting to bring an action against Executive Branch officials. Indeed, the plaintiffs “acknowledge the contrary result” reached by the District of Columbia Circuit in a case also involving alleged presidential violations of the War Powers Clause and the War Powers Resolution. See Pls.’ Opp’n at 17. While there may conceivably be some political benefit in suing the President and the Secretary of Defense, in light of shrinking judicial budgets, scarce judicial resources, and a heavy caseload, the Court finds it frustrating to expend time and effort adjudicating the relitigation of settled questions of law. The Court does not mean to imply that the judiciary should be anything but open and accommodating to all members of society, but is simply expressing its dismay that the plaintiffs are seemingly using the limited resources of this Court to achieve what appear to be purely political ends, when it should be clear to them that this Court is powerless to depart from clearly established precedent of the Supreme Court and the District of Columbia Circuit.

As noted by Politico, Rep. Kucinich’s attorney, GWU law professor Jonathan Turley, objected to Judge Walton’s suggestion this suit should not have been filed.

I must strongly disagree with the Court’s statement in a footnote that, because the D.C. Circuit previously ruled against members in an earlier challenge, no further challenges should be made by members who disagree. If that were the standard, many of our most famous cases in history, like Brown v. Board of Education, would never have happened. Changes in precedent are often secured only after years, if not decades, of challenges. These members strongly disagree with the D.C. Circuit case law and the only way to ask the Circuit to reconsider those holdings is to first receive a decision from the district court.

Of course it is sometimes necessary to raise claims that are squarely foreclosed by precedent in order to prompt the Supreme Court to revisit its own prior decisions. But such a legal strategy only makes sense where intervening precedents and other decisions raise questions about prior decisions or otherwise expose tensions or contradictions in contemporary doctrine. Simply repeating failed legal arguments in the vain hope the judiciary will alter course, as the plaintiffs did here, borders on the frivolous, and creates the impression those filing suit are more interested in publicity and making a political point than in prevailing in court.