1973 November 7

Congress Overrides Nixon Veto, Passes War Powers Resolution


Fueled by public anger and frustration over the Vietnam War, Congress in mid-October 1973 passed the War Powers Resolution, designed to limit the power of presidents to commit American military forces to combat overseas. President Richard Nixon vetoed the law on the 24th, and Congress overrode his veto on this day. The vote in the House of Representatives was 284 to 135; and in the Senate 75 to 18. The Resolution requires the president to notify Congress of any commitment of troops within 48 hours, and forbids military forces from remaining more than 60 days without an act of Congress.

Most observers today, including both liberals and conservatives, believe the War Powers Resolution (now a law) has been ineffective in preventing presidents from sending American military forces into harm’s way. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have committed American troops overseas on many occasions, in some cases with inadequate notification of Congress. It is important to note that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were authorized by Congress before military forces were committed. And it is also important to note that the Resolution does not apply to actions by the CIA.

Prior to the passage of the War Powers Resolution, there had been several legal challenges to the Vietnam War. The state of Massachusetts passed a resolution on April 2, 1970 declaring the war unconstitutional because there had been no Congressional declaration of war as required by the Constitution. The ACLU declared the war unconstitutional on June 3, 1970 for the same reason and also because of the civil liberties violations attendant upon the war. Cases challenging the constitutionality of the war were unsuccessful. See June 19, 1970 and November 9, 1970.

Section 4 of the Resolution: “(a) In the absence of a declaration of war, in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced (1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances; (2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces; or (3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation; the president shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report . . .”

Read the full text of the War Powers Resolution: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/warpower.asp

Read: Peter Irons, War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution (2005)

Learn more about war powers at the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/law/help/war-powers.php

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