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Judge Reggie Walton rules members of Congress do not have standing to sue Obama over US military actions in Libya

Lead Plaintiff Dennis Kucinich

Lead Plaintiff Dennis Kucinich

From the Blog of LegalTimes:

A federal judge in Washington has dismissed a suit challenging the Obama administration’s legal justification for military action against targets in Libya.

The suit, filed by a bipartisan group of congressmen in June in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sought a ruling that the U.S. military strikes are unconstitutional without a congressional declaration of war.

The congressmen, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a critic of the U.S. military effort in Libya, asked U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton for an injunction blocking the president and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from proceeding in Libya without congressional approval.

Responding to the suit, the U.S. Justice Department said the claims raise political questions that federal district judges are not authorized to entertain and that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue in the first place.

Walton agreed, ruling that the lawmakers do not have standing. He rejected the alleged injury the lawmakers claimed—that they have been deprived the ability to vote on a war declaration.

In a footnote, Walton questioned the plaintiffs’ decision to sue given legal precedent, he said, that didn’t bode well for the members of Congress.

“While there may conceivably be some political benefit in suing the President and the Secretary of Defense, 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,” Walton said.

The judge went on to say that he is not implying the judiciary should not be “open and accommodating” to all members of society. Walton said he was “expressing his dismay” that the plaintiffs are using the limited resources of the court “to achieve what appear to be purely political ends, when it should be clear to them that this Court is powerless to depart from clearly established precedent of the Supreme Court and the District of Columbia Circuit.”

Other plaintiffs who signed onto the suit included Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)

Professor Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School, who represented the members of Congress, called Walton’s decision a disappointment.

“I respect Judge Walton and believe that this is a thoughtful opinion but I have to respectfully disagree with his analysis,” Turley said.

Walton, Turley noted, did not rule on the constitutional questions the suit raised. Instead, the decision holds that a critical part of the Constitution cannot be effectively enforced in the courts,” Turley said. “It is a position that runs contrary to the views of the Framers and certainly these members.”

Turley said he strongly disagreed with Walton’s footnote assessing the decision to file suit.

“Changes in precedent are often secured only after years if not decades of challenges,” Turley said. “These members strongly disagree with the D.C. Circuit case law and the only way to ask the circuit to reconsider those holdings is to first receive a decision from the district court.”

Walton’s ruling came the same day of the death of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

In remarks today, Obama said Qaddafi’s death “marks the end of a long and painful chapter for the people of Libya, who now have the opportunity to determine their own destiny in a new and democratic Libya.”

This decision is certainly what I would have expected and is consistent with the article Catherine Lotrionte and I wrote some time ago– Congress Goes to Court: The Past, Present and Future of Legislator Standing.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.