WASHINGTON -- As news spread of Muammar Gaddafi's demise on Thursday, a federal judge in Washington shot down a lawsuit by 10 members of the House of Representatives claiming that President Obama's Libyan intervention is against the law.
In the suit, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and his co-plaintiffs alleged that Obama went to war without congressional declaration or approval as required by constitutional and statutory law. But rather than squarely address these claims, Judge Reggie Walton ruled that the plaintiffs, whether as members of Congress or as taxpaying citizens, simply had no standing to sue.
Walton's opinion in Kucinich v. Obama was dictated by precedents set by "a line of cases that have all but foreclosed the idea that a member of Congress can assert" his, well, membership in Congress "to maintain a suit against a member of the Executive Branch." Simply put, legislators cannot claim that the president's actions have sullied Congress as an institution. Instead, they must claim that the president has personally harmed them or totally nullified their votes in the legislature.
The representatives argued that such vote nullification occurred when Obama ignored the House's majority vote against a resolution that would have authorized his continued commitment of U.S. troops to NATO's intervention in Libya. But the resolution depended on the classification of the NATO mission as a war -- something President Obama assiduously avoided. Accordingly, Judge Walton determined that the "President's actions, being based on authority totally independent" of the rationale driving the House's vote, "cannot be construed as actions that nullify a specific Congressional prohibition."
Walton also used a footnote to blast Kucinich for pursuing claims that a judge on the same court rejected in 2002's Kucinich v. Bush, which protested President George W. Bush's unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. "While there may be conceivably some political benefit in suing the President and the Secretary of Defense," Walton wrote, "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 representatives' lawyer, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, took to his blog to say that "the decision holds that a critical part of the Constitution cannot be effectively enforced in the courts."
In a statement disagreeing with Judge Walton's dismissal of their case, Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) reiterated the merits of their claims. "This lawsuit is not just about checking executive power," the statement said, "but also about securing the right of Members of Congress to defend the constitutionally required balance of power in court."The ten representatives are now considering an appeal to the D.C. Circuit.