It’s been an interesting day on social media in the wake of Pres. Trump’s unilateral decision to launch cruise missiles into Syria.

I actually saw this in a comment from a “constitutional conservative.”

“National Defense Authorization Act includes language by Congress giving the President this authority [for a missile attack].”

As if a congressional action trumped the Constitution.

This person may generally be a constitutionalist – but he certainly gets pretty squishy when it comes to war powers.

The argument goes like this – Congress passed a blanket authorization to use military force at some point in the past and that gives the president the power to launch offensive military actions without consulting Congress. People use the same reasoning to justify the War Powers Resolution passed in 1973. This supposedly authorizes the president to take military action and get retroactive approval from Congress later.

None of this passes constitutional muster.

Examining the founding era documentation makes it clear the framers and ratifiers intended to withhold the authority to engage in offensive military action from the executive branch. It was meant to be wholly exercised by the legislative branch where there would be deliberation. All war decision-making power was exclusively vested in Congress. And the legislative branch does not have the authority to transfer its constitutionally delegated power to the president.

James Madison put it this way.

The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.

You can read my Constitution 101 article on war powers HERE and a follow up on the meaning of “to declare war” HERE.

Many people want to circumvent constitutional limits when they stand in the way of “getting things done.” But chucking the parts that we don’t like when they interfere with our policy preferences destroys America’s constitutional foundation. We have to stay faithful: every issue, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

Mike Maharrey

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