War Powers Act
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The War Powers Act is a U.S. Congressional joint resolution, adopted in 1973 after the Vietnam war, limiting presidential military authority. This is a colloquial name for the resolution officially titled The War Powers Resolution of 1973. The common name derives either from the Senate’s original version with this name or confusion with The War Powers Act of 1941.
Ironically, the 1973 resolution serves much the opposite purpose of The War Powers Act of 1941. The 1941 emergency law, taking effect only two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, dramatically increased the president’s power over the armed forces. The 1973 resolution limits this power, requiring that the President notify Congress within 48 hours of ordering any military deployment. Further, Congress must either provide specific authorization or actually declare war for actions lasting beyond 60 days.
President Nixon vetoed the bill after it was first submitted, but Congress was able to achieve the two-thirds majority to override him. Every subsequent president has questioned the act’s constitutionality, and legal scholars continue to debate the matter. Still, presidents have generally adhered to it for the sake of avoiding political complications. Two notable exceptions are President Clinton’s ignoring the act when he ordered the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign, and President Obama’s ignoring it in 2011 when he ordered U.S. military action in Libya. The U.S. House of Representatives issued a rebuke of Obama’s action, but it was merely symbolic. So far the act has not faced direct challenge, but neither have violations of The War Powers Act led to any serious consequences.