Only Congress Has the Power to Declare War

Under Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, the Congress has the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water[.]”  The Founders wisely thought that the Legislature is in a better position than the President to carry out the will of the people.  Congressional debate can test the arguments for and against intervention in global problems.  Every two years members of the House are kept in check by the voters, who ought to dictate what American foreign policy should be.

James Madison, commonly referred to as “Father of the Constitution,” once said:

Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.  War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.  In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people.  The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes and the opportunities of fraud growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both.  No nation could reserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Under the War Powers Resolution, the President can deploy U.S. forces anywhere outside the U.S. for 180 days, provided Congress is informed in writing within 48 hours.  The executive does not need Congress to declare war for the 180 days, however, that time period cannot be extended without congressional authorization.  The President has the authority to introduce American forces into hostilities only when there is:

(1) a declaration of war

(2) specific statutory authorization, or

(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

The Supreme Court has never reviewed the War Powers Resolution to see if it passes constitutional muster.  Although Congress will say that it has “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 . . . [,]” the Court, however, has ruled in other cases that one branch of government cannot give power away to another.