1970 November 9

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Constitutionality of Vietnam War


The State of Massachusetts passed a law on April 2, 1970, declaring that state residents did not need to serve in the Vietnam War because there had never been a Congressional Declaration of War, as required by the Constitution. In Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Laird, decided on this day, the Supreme Court rejected the state’s argument.

The case was one of several challenges to the legality of the Vietnam War. See also Berk v. Laird, decided on June 19, 1970.

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).

Justice William O. Douglas dissents: “Today we deny a hearing to a State which attempts to determine whether it is constitutional to require its citizens to fight in a foreign war absent a congressional declaration of war… The question of an unconstitutional war is neither academic nor ‘political.’”

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

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