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Campbell v. Clinton

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs sued Defendant, arguing that he violated the War Powers Resolution and the War Powers Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The trial court found that Plaintiffs lacked standing. Plaintiffs appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Members of Congress lack standing to sue a President for ordering military action without congressional authority; they must resort to their legislative authority.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

It would seem the Court used nullify to mean treating a vote that did not pass as if it had, or vice versa.

View Full Point of Law

In 1999, President Clinton (Defendant) ordered the participation of U.S. military forces in NATO missile attacks in Yugoslavia. Within forty-eight hours he submitted a report to Congress that outlined the reasons for the use of military forces and the scope and duration of the deployment, and in which he asserted that his actions were based on his authority as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. Congress voted not to declare war or to issue an authorization for the missile strikes, but it did vote not to require an immediate end to U.S. involvement in the NATO strikes and voted to fund that involvement. Several congressmen (Plaintiffs) sued, arguing that President Clinton had violated the War Powers Resolution (WPR) and the War Powers Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The WPR requires the President to submit a report to Congress within forty-eight hours of any military involvement in hostilities, and to terminate military involvement unless Congress declares war or enacts authorization for the involvement within sixty days. The district court found that the congressmen lacked standing to sue.


Whether members of Congress may sue a president for ordering military action without congressional authorization.


No. The trial court’s ruling is affirmed. Members of Congress lack standing to sue a President for ordering military action without congressional authority; they must resort to their legislative authority.


Silberman, J.
No one may bring a suit challenging presidential action under the WPR and the War Powers Clause because these claims are not capable of determination by the courts. There are no judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving these claims, and the War Powers Clause claim raises political question doctrine issues. There is no coherent test for determining what constitutes war. Even if there were, Congress’s power to declare war is not the same as the power to decide if U.S. military forces will be used in that war. The Prize Cases, 67 U.S. 635 (1862), stand for the proposition that while a president does not have the power to declare war, a president has the authority to repel a third party’s aggressive acts or declarations of war without congressional authorization, and that the courts may not review the level of force the president chooses in doing so. Thus, a party challenging the constitutionality of a war must first answer the difficult question of who started it. The courts do not have judicial standards for resolving this question, and discovering the information necessary for answering this question would also be very difficult. The Court should not substitute its judgment for the president’s as to when military intervention is justified by national security reasons, or the degree of force required. Finally, because the President has already stated on national television that his actions were necessary in response to Yugoslav aggression, a subsequent determination by another branch of government that the involvement was unjustified would strain relations within NATO.

Tatel, J.
Courts do not lack judicially discoverable and manageable standards for determining whether military activity constitutes a war under the War Powers Clause any more than they lack standards for determining whether police conduct constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, or whether government action constitutes an establishment of religion under the First Amendment. In the Prize Cases, the Court was able to determine that a war existed between the U.S. and the confederacy even though Congress had never declared war, by looking to the facts of the conflict, the actions of other countries that had acknowledged the war, and the actions of Congress in authorizing the president’s use of force. This Court should similarly be capable of determining whether months of airstrikes and thousands of enemy casualties constitute a war under the War Powers Clause. This case does not ask the Court to resolve the political question, reserved to the Executive, of whether the air strikes were the correct course of action. Rather, the case asks the Court to determine the proper allocation of powers between the branches of government, and to answer the purely legal issue of whether the President exceeded his executive powers and intruded on Congress’s power to declare war. Finally, that judicial review of a war powers challenge may lead to conflicting opinions among the different branches of government is not a convincing argument, because the judiciary has the final word on whether or not a president’s actions are constitutional.


The members of Congress lack standing to sue the President. Members of Congress must resort to their legislative authority; they could have passed a law forbidding the use of U.S. forces in the Yugoslav campaign. Additionally, Congress retains its appropriations authority, which it could have used that authority to cut off funds for the American role in the conflict. Furthermore, the possibility of impeachment always remains should a President act in disregard of Congress’ authority.

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