War Powers Act: Diminished With the Success of Libya Operation?

Does the success of the operation against Gadhafi change the minds of those who believe the War Powers Act was violated when the president did not seek congressional authorization for the deployment of military force? Not so much.

For supporters of the law the president still needed congressional authorization to continue operations 60 days after the deployment.

“The academics will debate this, but this will just further erode the War Powers Act,” says professor Sarah Kreps of Cornell University. “Congress had little leverage on what the president did.”

In June the administration sent a report to Congress describing its role in Libya. “The President is of the view,” the report said, ” that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not, under that law, require further congressional authorization because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision. U.S. forces are playing a constrained and supporting role in a multinational coalition.”

Kreps believes the administration was splitting legal hairs when it said the law wasn’t violated because NATO was taking over the lead role, and says that it doesn’t matter about the outcome of the operation.

“To say that something has changed now that Gadhafi is dead would be to say the ends justify the means,” the professor said.

She acknowledges that because of the success of the operation the war powers act has been diminished.

“In some ways because the outcome was favorable I think there will be a sense of  we did the job, it doesn’t matter how we got the job done,” Kreps said.

Ten Republican lawmakers, lead by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, had gone to court arguing that Obama had violated the law. On Thursday, the same day that Gadhafi was killed, a federal judge dismissed the suit. United States District Judge Reggie B. Walton concluded that the lawmakers did not have the legal right to bring the suit.

“[t]he Court concludes” Walton wrote, “that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they have standing–either in their capacity as members of the House of Representatives or because of their status as taxpayers–to maintain this action.”

Kreps doesn’t expect much debate about the law in the halls of Congress now. And when the issue comes up again in the future there will be fresh precedent to discuss.