The Constitutionality of Covert War: Rebuttals

Professor Turner argues that Congress’s power to “declare war” and issue letters of marque and reprisal is an irrelevant “anachronism” in today’s world, and was virtually irrelevant even in 1787. According to Turner, the Declare War Clause only prevents the President from launching “a major aggressive war.” In his view, the President has the power to launch “minor” aggressive wars and even initiate “major” warfare (“major” is not defined) when such warfare can broadly be termed “defensive,” a vague term also not defined by Turner. Of course, no sane President would openly claim to launch an “aggressive” (or in eighteenth century parlance, an unjust war).

For example, President George W. Bush asserted that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was “defensive” although Iraq had neither attacked us nor was imminently threatening to do so, and the invasion was widely viewed by the world community as violative of the U.N. Charter. Turner’s interpretation of the Declare War Clause, of which James Madison wrote, “in no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found,” reduces this important provision to a virtual nullity, easily evaded by the executive’s claim that a war is either “defensive,” or not “major.”

Author Profile

Jules Lobel
Jules Lobel is Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Through the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, Lobel has litigated important issues regarding the application of international law in the U.S. courts. In the late 1980’s, he advised the Nicaraguan government on the development of its first democratic constitution, and has also advised the Burundi government on constitutional law issues.

Professor Lobel is editor of a text on civil rights litigation and of a collection of essays on the U.S. Constitution, A Less Than Perfect Union (Monthly Review Press, 1988). He is author of numerous articles on international law, foreign affairs, and the U.S. Constitution in publications including Yale Law Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, Cornell Law Review, and Virginia Law Review. He is a member of the American Society of International Law.
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