A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of House members who wanted the bombing of Yugoslavia by U.S. forces to be declared illegal.
The lawsuit was filed by 31 lawmakers, including four Democrats, who alleged that President Clinton violated the War Powers Act of 1973 by authorizing air strikes against Yugoslavia.
The Vietnam War-era legislation, which has been ignored widely by presidents of both parties, requires the chief executive to get congressional approval for the "introduction into hostilities" of U.S. forces for more than 60 days. The NATO air campaign began March 24.
The congressmen based their lawsuit on a 213-213 House vote April 28 that fell short of authorizing U.S. participation in NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. The plaintiffs claimed Mr. Clinton ignored the vote by continuing with the bombing.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman granted a White House motion to dismiss the case, saying "congressional reaction to the air strikes has sent distinctly mixed messages."
The judge noted that on May 20, Congress passed an emergency spending bill to help pay for U.S. military involvement in the Yugoslav conflict. "Had the four votes been consistent and against the president's position, and had he nevertheless persisted with air strikes in the face of such votes, there may well have been a constitutional impasse. But Congress has not sent such a clear, consistent message," Friedman said in his ruling.
He goes on to note that some of the "213 representatives who voted against authorizing the president's actions and against a declaration of war also voted in favor of supporting the troops and appropriating money to fund the conflict in Yugoslavia and against directing the president to remove the Armed Forces from their positions."
Friedman said that "absent a clear impasse between the executive and legislative branches, resort to the judicial branch is inappropriate."
Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif., who led the lawmakers suing the president, said he would appeal the decision. "The effect of today's ruling is to prevent any member of Congress from contesting a war that the president initiates and carries forward in the absence of a declaration of Congress," Campbell said in a statement. "That is an absurdity if the Constitution's war declaration authority is to have any meaning."
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said: "We're pleased that the court dismissed the case because we believed all along that this was an issue to be resolved by Congress and the executive branch, not the courts."