Considering the fact that the Bush Administration is the planet’s primary proponent of war with Iraq, Nancy Lessin wants to know why the US Congress has failed to follow the example of parliaments around the world that are debating whether a war is necessary.
“When we look at the world community, we see that they had a debate in the Parliament of Turkey. They had a debate in the Parliament of Great Britain. They are having serious debates in legislative bodies all over the world, and yet there is no debate in Congress,” says Lessin, the mother of a 25-year-old Marine who has been dispatched to the Persian Gulf.
Lessin and other parents of troops serving in the Gulf have joined US soldiers and a dozen members of Congress as plaintiffs in a lawsuit that seeks to bar President Bush from ordering an attack on Iraq without a Congressional declaration of war. “If the rest of the world can debate this war, then America can as well. Our Constitution requires that debate,” says Lessin, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO’s health and safety coordinator, whose son Joe is among the almost 300,000 US troops who have already been sent to the Gulf. “If the President starts this war without a declaration from Congress, he will violate the Constitution. And I do not want our troops being ordered to fight an unconstitutional war.”
On Tuesday, Lessin sat in a federal courthouse in Boston, where a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard arguments regarding the suit that she sees as an essential step in reasserting democracy in America. The lawsuit, which is the premier legal challenge to the President’s authority to wage war against Iraq, looked to be going nowhere when it was dismissed by Federal Judge Joseph Tauro in mid-February. But the plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case, Boston lawyer John Bonifaz, filed a successful motion for expedited review before the appellate court. On Tuesday, Bonifaz faced off against top lawyers for John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice before Judges Sandra Lynch, Conrad Cyr and Norman Stahl.
This time, the case was not dismissed. Bonifaz argued that an invasion of Iraq without further action by Congress would violate Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, which states that “Congress shall have Power…[t]o declare War.” He explained that the October resolution on Iraq that was passed by the House and Senate had failed to declare war and, in fact, had unlawfully ceded to the President the authority to decide whether to launch an invasion of Iraq.
“We are not saying that the war cannot occur if Congress declares it. Our position is that the Constitution requires the President to go to Congress before launching a premeditated, first-strike invasion of another country,” explains Bonifaz. “This is precisely what the framers of the Constitution intended to prevent. They placed Article 1, Section 8 in the Constitution to assure that the President of the United States would not have the power that European monarchs had held in the past in matters of war and peace.”
In a marked departure from the February appearance before Judge Tauro, Tuesday’s appearance before the three-judge panel saw this argument treated with respect and a reasonable level of interest by at least two of the jurists. “Clearly the court understands the gravity of the issues being put before it,” said Bonifaz. “I think we have strong arguments and I think the judges want to hear them.”