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US lawmakers file suit against Obama for continuing actions in Libya

A group of 10 US congressmen filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against President Barack Obama on Wednesday for circumventing Congress' authority by increasing military strikes against Libya. Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC) [official websites] held a press conference announcing [press release] the filing in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website]. Arguing that Obama is in violation of Article 1, Section 8 [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution, which grants Congress the power to declare war, the representatives are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief:

The Libyan operations ordered by President Obama constitute "war" for the purpose of Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution. President Obama prosecuted the war without a declaration of Congress with the use of funds never approved for such a war. These actions have avoided a public vote on a war that is, according to recent poll, only supported by twenty-three percent of Americans. ... Obama's war in Libya is precisely what the Framers opposed—and thought they had barred—in requiring an open, public declaration for wars. The Obama Administration has read the mandatory consent of Congress out of the Constitution and replaced it with a purely discretionary power of the President to commence war with or without congressional approval. As members of Congress, the Plaintiffs assert the right to challenge a per se violation of Article I of the Constitution as well as the violation of statutory laws governing the commencement and funding of any undeclared war.
The complaint also alleges violations of the 1973 War Powers Resolution [50 USC § 1541 et seq.]. On Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] sent a letter [text] to Obama warning that he was within five days of violating the War Powers Resolution and demanded an explanation. Later on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed Libya in the daily briefing [C-Span report], stating that because there are no troops on the ground, there is no war and thus no violation of the War Powers Resolution.

In March, US Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) [official website] announced [press release] legislation requiring an immediate halt to military action in Libya [JURIST report] until Congress authorizes its resumption. The Restoring Essential Constitutional Constraints for Libyan Action Involving the Military (RECLAIM) Act [text, PDF] cites Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution while declaring that Obama must obtain authorization before any further military action is conducted. The bill is still in committee and has yet to be voted on [bill materials]. Operation Odyssey Dawn [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a US-led military operation, has been conducting air strikes against the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] since March. The action began after the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1973 [text], imposing a no-fly zone over the country. The mission, as well as US involvement absent Congressional approval, has been controversial. JURIST Contributing Editor Michael J Kelly [official profile] has argued that Obama has the constitutional authority [JURIST op-ed] to conduct the operation under the 1973 War Powers Resolution. JURIST Guest Columnist Curtis Doebbler [official profile] has argued that the operation violates international law [JURIST op-ed] by failing to comport with Article 42 of the UN Charter [text], which requires a determination that "measures not involving the use of force" have failed. JURIST Guest Columnist Jordan Paust [official profile] argues that the War Powers Resolution does not limit the president's options [JURIST op-ed] in Libya due to his constitutional authority and international obligations.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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