1970 April 2

Massachusetts Declares Vietnam War Unconstitutional


The State of Massachusetts passed a law on this day holding that no resident of Massachusetts could be required to serve in the Vietnam War because there was no Congressional declaration of war. In Massachusetts v. Laird (November 9, 1970), the Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving the law on grounds of a lack of justiciability (that the war was a political question and not a constitutional one). The Supreme Court’s decision meant there was no ruling on the validity of the Massachusetts’ claim that the Vietnam War was unconstitutional. (Melvin Laird, the defendant in the case, was Secretary of Defense.) See also Berk v. Laird (June 19, 1970) for another challenge to the constitutionality of the Vietnam War.

Two months after Massachusetts acted, the ACLU on June 3, 1970 declared the Vietnam War unconstitutional because of the lack of a Congressional declaration of war.

The Vietnam War created a number of civil liberties crises. They include (1) the lack of a Congressional Declaration of War as required by the Constitution (June 3, 1970); (2) threats to freedom of the press in the Pentagon Papers case (June 30, 1971); (3) spying on the anti-war movement by the CIA (August 15, 1967); (4) threats to freedom of expression, for example high school student protests (February 24, 1969); censorship of television programs (February 25, 1968); and directly and indirectly some of the events that led to the Watergate Scandal (May 9, 1969; January 27, 1972).

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

Learn more about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964–1968 (1973)

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