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War Powers Resolution

War Powers Resolution
Great Seal of the United States
Long title Joint resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President.
Enacted by the 93rd United States Congress
Effective November 7, 1973
Public law 93-148
Statutes at Large 87 Stat. 555
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.J.Res. 542 by Clement J. Zablocki (D-WI) on May 3, 1973
  • Committee consideration by House Foreign Affairs
  • Passed the House on July 18, 1973 (244–170)
  • Passed the Senate on July 20, 1973 (75-20)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on October 4, 1973; agreed to by the Senate on October 10, 1973 (75–20) and by the House on October 12, 1973 (238–123)
  • Vetoed by President Richard Nixon on October 24, 1973
  • Overridden by the House on November 7, 1973 (284–135)
  • Overridden by the Senate and became law on November 7, 1973 (75–18)

The War Powers Resolution (also known as the War Powers Resolution of 1973) (50 U.S.C. 1541–1548)[1] is a federal law intended to check the president's power to commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the U.S. Congress. The Resolution was adopted in the form of a United States Congress joint resolution. It provides that the U.S. President can send U.S. Armed Forces into action abroad only by declaration of war by Congress, "statutory authorization," or in case of "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

The War Powers Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. The resolution was passed by two-thirds of Congress, overriding a presidential veto.

It has been alleged that the War Powers Resolution has been violated in the past – for example, by President Bill Clinton in 1999, during the bombing campaign in Kosovo. Congress has disapproved all such incidents, but none has resulted in any successful legal actions being taken against the president for alleged violations.[2]


  • Background 1
  • History 2
    • Possible repeal 2.1
  • Questions regarding constitutionality 3
  • See also 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Under the United States Constitution, war powers are divided. Congress has the power to declare war, raise and support the armed forces, control the war funding (Article I, Section 8), and has "Power … to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution … all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof", while the President is commander-in-chief of the military, and the militia (armed citizenry) "when called into the actual Service of the United States" (Article II, Section 2). It is generally agreed that the commander-in-chief role gives the President power to repel attacks against the United States[3][4] and makes the President responsible for leading the armed forces. In addition and as with all acts of the Congress, the President has the right to sign or veto congressional acts, such as a declaration of war.


During the Korean and Vietnam wars, the United States found itself involved for many years in situations of intense conflict without a declaration of war. Many members of Congress became concerned with the erosion of congressional authority to decide when the United States should become involved in a war or the use of armed forces that might lead to war. It was prompted by news leaking out that President Nixon conducted secret bombings of Cambodia during the Vietnam War without notifying Congress. The War Powers Resolution was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate but was vetoed by President Richard Nixon. By a two-thirds vote in each house, Congress overrode the veto and enacted the joint resolution into law on November 7, 1973.

Presidents have submitted 130[5] reports to Congress as a result of the War Powers Resolution, although only one (the Mayagüez incident) cited Section 4(a)(1) and specifically stated that forces had been introduced into hostilities or imminent danger.

Congress invoked the War Powers Resolution in the Multinational Force in Lebanon Act (P.L. 98-119), which authorized the Marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months during 1982 and 1983. In addition, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 1991 (Pub.L. 102–1) which authorized United States combat operations against Iraqi forces during the 1991 Gulf War, stated that it constituted specific statutory authorization within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution.

On November 9, 1993, the House used a section of the War Powers Resolution to state that U.S. forces should be withdrawn from September 11, 2001. "[I]n 1999, President Clinton kept the bombing campaign in Kosovo going for more than two weeks after the 60-day deadline had passed. Even then, however, the Clinton legal team opined that its actions were consistent with the War Powers Resolution because Congress had approved a bill funding the operation, which they argued constituted implicit authorization. That theory was controversial because the War Powers Resolution specifically says that such funding does not constitute authorization."[6] Clinton's actions in Kosovo were challenged by a member of Congress as a violation of the War Powers Resolution in the D.C. Circuit case Campbell v. Clinton, but the court found the issue was a non-justiciable political question. It was also accepted that because Clinton had withdrawn from the region 12 days prior the 90 day required deadline, he had managed to comply with the act.[7]

After the 1991

  • Avalon Project - War Powers Resolution
  • The War Powers Resolution: After Twenty-Eight Years Nov. 15, 2001 PDF
  • War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance Sep. 11, 2001 HTML
  • War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance Jan. 8, 2002 PDF
  • War Powers Resolution : Presidential Compliance Mar. 16, 2004 PDF
  • War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance Nov. 15, 2004 PDF
  • The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty Years

External links

  • Grimmett, Richard Z. (February 14, 2006). "CRS Report for Congress: War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance" (PDF).  
  • United States Congress (November 7, 1973). "War Powers Resolution of 1973 (Public Law 93-148)". The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  • United States Congress (October 31, 1998). "H.R.4655: Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338)". Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  • United States Congress (September 18, 2001). "Public Law 107-40: Joint Resolution: To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States (S.J. Res. 23)" (text).  
  • United States Congress (October 16, 2002). "Public Law 107-243: Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (H. J. Res. 114)" (text). United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  • Kinkopf, Neil. "The Congress as Surge Protector" (PDF). American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-09-30. The Supreme Court has been clear and unambiguous. When Congress, acting in the vast areas of overlapping power, tells the President 'no', the President must comply. 
  • Doumar, Robert G. (January 8, 2003). Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk (CA-02-439-2)"Hamdi v. Rumsfeld" (PDF). United States Judiciary. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  • Young, D. Lindley (February 24, 2003). "Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Plaintiff's Appeal" (PDF). United States Judiciary. Retrieved 2011-12-06. 
  • Library of Congress (March 12, 2012). "Research Help: War Powers" (text). United States Government Library of Congress. Retrieved 2012-05-04. 


  1. ^ Full text of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C 1541–1548)
  2. ^ Library of Congress War Powers Reference [1], Library of Congress
  3. ^ 2 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 318-19 (Max Farrand ed., rev. ed. 1966)(1911)
  4. ^ [2] Archived December 15, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ U.S. Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. War Powers Resolution: Presidential Compliance. Washington: The Service, 2011 (RL33532), Summary.
  6. ^ Savage, Charlie (2011-04-01) Clock Ticking on War Powers Resolution, New York Times
  7. ^ How War Powers, Congressional Action have Intersected Over Time Wall Street Journal (2013-09-02)
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Libya War Deadline Arrives
  10. ^ "White House on War Powers Deadline: 'Limited' US Role in Libya Means No Need to Get Congressional Authorization", ABC News, May 20, 2011
  11. ^ "Libya: Nato assumes control of military operation". BBC News. March 27, 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Dinan, Stephen, "Bipartisan Congress rebuffs Obama on Libya mission". The Washington Times, Saturday, June 4, 2011
  15. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer (June 3, 2011). "House Rebukes Obama for Continuing Libyan Mission Without Its Consent". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ Cassata, Donna (January 17, 2014). "Senators unveil bill to change war powers". Associated Press via Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  17. ^ "The war powers resolution". US Department of State Bulletin. 1988-09-15. Retrieved 2008-07-09.  "The War Powers Resolution has been controversial from the day it was adopted over President Nixon's veto. Since 1973, executive officials and many Members of Congress have criticized various aspects of the law repeatedly."
  18. ^ War Powers Joint Resolution, §2(b).
  19. ^ "War Powers: An Essay on John Hart Ely's War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath," Michigan Law Quarterly 92, no. 6 (May 1994): 1364–1400.
  20. ^ "Myers v. United States, 272 U. S. 52 (1926)". 


See also

There is also an unresolved legal question, discussed by Justice White in INS v. Chadha of whether a "key provision of the War Powers Resolution", namely 50 U.S.C. 1544(c), constitutes an improper legislative veto. (See Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 971.) That section 1544(c) states "such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution". Justice White argues in his dissent in Chadha that, under the Chadha ruling, 1544(c) would be a violation of the Presentment Clause. The majority in Chadha does not resolve the issue. Justice White does not address or evaluate in his dissent whether that section would fall within the inherent Congressional authority under Article I Section 8 to "make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces".

The constitution specifically states that Congress is authorized "to provide and maintain a Navy" (Article 1 Section 8). The idea of "maintenance" of a Navy implies that Naval Forces would be a permanent fixture of national defense. Two types of Land Forces are described by the Constitution (Article 1 Section 8): the Militia (armed citizenry organized into local defense forces and state volunteer regiments) which Congress can "call forth" and prescribe the "organizing, arming, and disciplining [training]" of, as Congress did in the Militia acts of 1792; and the Army, which Congress can "raise and support", through regular appropriation acts limited to no more than two years. This division matches how the Revolutionary War was fought, by the Continental Army, raised and supported by the Continental Congress, and local Militias and Volunteer Regiments, raised by the separate Colonies. After the war, under the Articles of Confederation, a small standing Army, the First American Regiment was raised and gradually increased in size over time by Congress before, following the Constitution's ratification, being transformed into the Regular Army. The availability of a standing Army, and the President of the United States being authorized as "Commander in Chief", implies his ability as a military commander to employ forces necessary to fulfill his oath to defend the constitution.

Here, the separation of powers issue is whether the War Powers Resolution requirements for Congressional approval and presidential reporting to Congress change the constitutional balance established in Articles I and II, namely that Congress is explicitly granted the sole authority to "declare war", "make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" (Article 1, Section 8), and to control the funding of those same forces, while the Executive has inherent authority as Commander in Chief. This argument does not address the other reporting requirements imposed on other executive officials and agencies by other statutes, nor does it address the provisions of Article I, Section 8 that explicitly gives Congress the authority to "make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces".

A second argument concerns a possible breach of the 'separation of powers' doctrine, and whether the resolution changes the balance between the Legislative and Executive functions. This type of constitutional controversy is similar to one that occurred under President Andrew Johnson with the Tenure of Office Act (1867). In that prior instance, the Congress passed a law (over the veto of the then-President) that required the President to secure Congressional approval for the removal of Cabinet members and other executive branch officers. The Act was not declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States until 1926.[20] When Andrew Johnson violated the Act, the House of Representatives impeached him; action in the Senate to remove him failed by one vote.

One argument for the unconstitutionality of the War Powers Resolution by Philip Bobbitt[19] argues "The power to make war is not an enumerated power" and the notion that to "declare" war is to "commence" war is a "contemporary textual preconception". Bobbitt contends that the Framers of the Constitution believed that statutory authorization was the route by which the United States would be committed to war, and that 'declaration' was meant for only total wars, as shown by the history of the Quasi-War with France (1798–1800). In general, constitutional powers are not so much separated as "linked and sequenced"; Congress's control over the armed forces is "structured" by appropriation, while the President commands; thus the act of declaring war should not be fetishized. Bobbitt also argues that "A democracy cannot ... tolerate secret policies" because they undermine the legitimacy of governmental action.

Because the Constitution limits the President's authority in the use of force without a declaration of war by Congress, there is controversy as to whether the provisions of the resolution are consistent with the Constitution. Presidents have therefore drafted reports to Congress required of the President to state that they are "consistent with" the War Powers Resolution rather than "pursuant to" so as to take into account the presidential position that the resolution is unconstitutional.

The War Powers Resolution has been controversial since it was passed.[17] In passing the resolution, Congress specifically cites the Necessary and Proper Clause for its authority.[18] Under the Necessary and Proper Clause, it is specifically provided that the Congress shall have the power to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution, not only its own powers but also all other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

Questions regarding constitutionality

On January 16, 2014, Senators John McCain and Tim Kaine unveiled legislation that would repeal the existing War Powers Resolution and replace it with a new law for greater presidential consultation to Congress before committing military forces to a war or armed conflict. Senator McCain justifies the effort by pointing out that Congress has not formally declared war since June 1942 and that the nature of war has changed since then. Senator Kaine said that modern threats require a re-examination of consultation between a president and the legislature. Since the War Powers Resolution was passed after involvement during Vietnam in 1973, the U.S. has been involved in several military actions of varying scales without any real effect from the resolution. Recent events like U.S. intervention during the 2011 Libyan Revolution and the attempted call for congressional approval for action in the Syrian Civil War in 2013 have ignited debate over presidential authority and the effectiveness of the War Powers Resolution. The proposed replacement law would require the president to consult with Congress before deployment into a "significant armed conflict" or engage in combat operations expected to last over seven days. It extends the time needed to consult Congress of the deployment to three days, but reduces the time required for a resolution to be passed by Congress for extending operations to 30 days. The proposed legislation does not affect humanitarian missions and covert operations. The proposal is based on the work of the bipartisan National War Powers Commission.[16]

Possible repeal

On Friday, June 3, 2011, the US House of Representatives voted to rebuke President Obama for maintaining an American presence in the NATO operations in Libya, which they considered a violation of the War Powers Resolution.[14][15]

May 20, 2011, marked the 60th day of US combat in Libya (as part of the UN resolution) but the deadline arrived without President Obama seeking specific authorization from the US Congress.[9] However, President Obama notified Congress that no authorization was needed,[10] since the US leadership had been transferred to NATO,[11] and since US involvement was somewhat "limited". In fact, as of April 28, 2011, the US had conducted 75 percent of all aerial refueling sorties, supplied 70 percent of the operation's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and contributed 24 percent of the total aircraft used in the operation.[12] By September, the US had conducted 26 percent of all military sorties, contributing more resources to Operation Unified Protector than any other NATO country.[13]


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