ArtII.S2.C1.1.2 Commander in Chief Power: Doctrine and Practice

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

The Limited View

The purely military aspects of the Commander-in-Chiefship were those that were originally stressed. Hamilton said the office would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the Military and naval forces, as first general and admiral of the confederacy.1 Story wrote in his Commentaries: The propriety of admitting the president to be commander in chief, so far as to give orders, and have a general superintendency, was admitted. But it was urged, that it would be dangerous to let him command in person, without any restraint, as he might make a bad use of it. The consent of both houses of Congress ought, therefore, to be required, before he should take the actual command. The answer then given was, that though the president might, there was no necessity that he should, take the command in person; and there was no probability that he would do so, except in extraordinary emergencies, and when he was possessed of superior military talents.2 In 1850, Chief Justice Taney, for the Court, wrote: His duty and his power are purely military. As commander-in-chief, he is authorized to direct the movements of the naval and military forces placed by law at his command, and to employ them in the manner he may deem most effectual to harass and conquer and subdue the enemy. He may invade the hostile country, and subject it to the sovereignty and authority of the United States. But his conquests do not enlarge the boundaries of this Union, nor extend the operation of our institutions and laws beyond the limits before assigned to them by the legislative power. . . .

But in the distribution of political power between the great departments of government, there is such a wide difference between the power conferred on the President of the United States, and the authority and sovereignty which belong to the English crown, that it would be altogether unsafe to reason from any supposed resemblance between them, either as regards conquest in war, or any other subject where the rights and powers of the executive arm of the government are brought into question.3 Even after the Civil War, a powerful minority of the Court described the role of President as Commander-in-Chief simply as the command of the forces and the conduct of campaigns.4

The Prize Cases

The basis for a broader conception was laid in certain early acts of Congress authorizing the President to employ military force in the execution of the laws. 5 In his famous message to Congress of July 4, 1861, 6 Lincoln advanced the claim that the war power was his for the purpose of suppressing rebellion, and in the Prize Cases7 of 1863 a divided Court sustained this theory. The immediate issue was the validity of the blockade that the President, following the attack on Fort Sumter, had proclaimed of the Southern ports. 8 The argument was advanced that a blockade to be valid must be an incident of a public war validly declared, and that only Congress could, by virtue of its power to declare war, constitutionally impart to a military situation this character and scope. Speaking for the majority of the Court, Justice Grier answered: If a war be made by invasion of a foreign nation, the President is not only authorized but bound to resist force by force. He does not initiate the war, but is bound to accept the challenge without waiting for any special legislative authority. And whether the hostile party be a foreign invader, or States organized in rebellion, it is none the less a war, although the declaration of it be ‘unilateral.’ Lord Stowell (1 Dodson, 247) observes, ‘It is not the less a war on that account, for war may exist without a declaration on either side. It is so laid down by the best writers of the law of nations. A declaration of war by one country only, is not a mere challenge to be accepted or refused at pleasure by the other.’

The battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma had been fought before the passage of the act of Congress of May 13, 1846, which recognized ‘a state of war as existing by the act of the Republic of Mexico.’ This act not only provided for the future prosecution of the war, but was itself a vindication and ratification of the Act of the President in accepting the challenge without a previous formal declaration of war by Congress.

This greatest of civil wars was not gradually developed by popular commotion, tumultuous assemblies, or local unorganized insurrections. However long may have been its previous conception, it nevertheless sprung forth suddenly from the parent brain, a Minerva in the full panoply of war. The President was bound to meet it in the shape it presented itself, without waiting for Congress to baptize it with a name; and no name given to it by him or them could change the fact. . . .

Whether the President in fulfilling his duties, as Commander in-chief, in suppressing an insurrection, has met with such armed hostile resistance, and a civil war of such alarming proportions as will compel him to accord to them the character of belligerents, is a question to be decided by him, and this Court must be governed by the decisions and acts of the political department of the government to which this power was entrusted. ‘He must determine what degree of force the crisis demands.’ The proclamation of blockade is itself official and conclusive evidence to the Court that a state of war existed which demanded and authorized a recourse to such a measure, under the circumstances peculiar to the case.9

Impact of the Prize Cases on World Wars I and II

In brief, the powers that may be claimed for the President under the Commander-in-Chief Clause at a time of widespread insurrection were equated with his powers under the clause at a time when the United States is engaged in a formally declared foreign war. 10 And, because, especially in the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln performed various acts, such as increasing the Army and Navy, that admittedly fell within Congress’s constitutional province, it seems to have been assumed during World Wars I and II that the position of Commander-in-Chief carried with it the power to exercise like powers practically at discretion, not merely in wartime but even at a time when war became a strong possibility. No attention was given the fact that Lincoln had asked Congress to ratify and confirm his acts, which Congress promptly had, 11 with the exception of his suspension of habeas corpus, a power that many attributed to the President in the situation then existing, by virtue of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. 12 Nor was this the only respect in which war or the approach of war was deemed to operate to enlarge the scope of power claimable by the President as Commander-in-Chief in wartime. 13

Presidential Theory of the Commander-in-Chiefship in World War II and Beyond

In his message to Congress of September 7, 1942, in which he demanded that Congress forthwith repeal certain provisions of the Emergency Price Control Act of the previous January 30th, 14 President Roosevelt formulated his conception of his powers as Commander in Chief in wartime as follows:

I ask the Congress to take this action by the first of October. Inaction on your part by that date will leave me with an inescapable responsibility to the people of this country to see to it that the war effort is no longer imperiled by threat of economic chaos.

In the event that the Congress should fail to act, and act adequately, I shall accept the responsibility, and I will act.

At the same time that farm prices are stabilized, wages can and will be stabilized also. This I will do.

The President has the powers, under the Constitution and under Congressional acts, to take measures necessary to avert a disaster which would interfere with the winning of the war.

I have given the most thoughtful consideration to meeting this issue without further reference to the Congress. I have determined, however, on this vital matter to consult with the Congress. . . .

The American people can be sure that I will use my powers with a full sense of my responsibility to the Constitution and to my country. The American people can also be sure that I shall not hesitate to use every power vested in me to accomplish the defeat of our enemies in any part of the world where our own safety demands such defeat.

When the war is won, the powers under which I act automatically revert to the people—to whom they belong. 15

Presidential War Agencies

While congressional compliance with the President’s demand rendered unnecessary an effort on his part to amend the Price Control Act, there were other matters as to which he repeatedly took action within the normal field of congressional powers, not only during the war, but in some instances prior to it. Thus, in exercising both the powers which he claimed as Commander-in-Chief and those which Congress conferred upon him to meet the emergency, Mr. Roosevelt employed new emergency agencies, created by himself and responsible directly to him, rather than the established departments or existing independent regulatory agencies. 16

Constitutional Status of Presidential Agencies

The question of the legal status of the presidential agencies was dealt with judicially but once. This was in the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Employers Group v. National War Labor Board, 17 which was a suit to annul and enjoin a directive order of the War Labor Board. The Court refused the injunction on the ground that the time when the directive was issued any action of the Board was informatory, at most advisory. In support of this view the Court quoted approvingly a statement by the chairman of the Board itself: These orders are in reality mere declarations of the equities of each industrial dispute, as determined by a tripartite body in which industry, labor, and the public share equal responsibility; and the appeal of the Board is to the moral obligation of employers and workers to abide by the nonstrike, no-lock-out agreement and . . . to carry out the directives of the tribunal created under that agreement by the Commander in Chief.18 Nor, the Court continued, had the later War Labor Disputes Act vested War Labor Board orders with any greater authority, with the result that they were still judicially unenforceable and unreviewable. Following this theory, the War Labor Board was not an office wielding power, but a purely advisory body, such as Presidents have frequently created in the past without the aid or consent of Congress. Congress itself, nevertheless, both in its appropriation acts and in other legislation, treated the presidential agencies as in all respects offices. 19

Evacuation of the West Coast Japanese

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued an executive order, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, providing, as a safeguard against subversion and sabotage, power for his military commanders to designate areas from which any person could be excluded or removed and to set up facilities for such persons elsewhere. 20 Pursuant to this order, more than 112,000 residents of the Western states, all of Japanese descent and more than two out of every three of whom were natural-born citizens, were removed from their homes and herded into temporary camps and later into relocation centers in several states.

It was apparently the original intention of the Administration to rely on the general principle of military necessity and the power of the Commander-in-Chief in wartime as authority for the relocations. But before any action of importance was taken under the order, Congress ratified and adopted it by the Act of March 21, 1942, 21 by which it was made a misdemeanor to knowingly enter, remain in, or leave prescribed military areas contrary to the orders of the Secretary of War or of the commanding officer of the area. The cases which subsequently arose in consequence of the order were decided under the order plus the Act. The question at issue, said Chief Justice Stone for the Court, is not one of Congressional power to delegate to the President the promulgation of the Executive Order, but whether, acting in cooperation, Congress and the Executive have constitutional . . . [power] to impose the curfew restriction here complained of.22 This question was answered in the affirmative, as was the similar question later raised by an exclusion order. 23

Presidential Government of Labor Regulations

The most important segment of the home front regulated by what were in effect presidential edicts was the field of labor relations. Exactly six months before Pearl Harbor, on June 7, 1941, Mr. Roosevelt, citing his proclamation thirteen days earlier of an unlimited national emergency, issued an Executive Order seizing the North American Aviation Plant at Inglewood, California, where, on account of a strike, production was at a standstill. 24 Attorney General Jackson justified the seizure as growing out of the duty constitutionally and inherently rested upon the President to exert his civil and military as well as his moral authority to keep the defense efforts of the United States a going concern, as well as to obtain supplies for which Congress has appropriated the money, and which it has directed the President to obtain.25 Other seizures followed, and on January 12, 1942, Mr. Roosevelt, by Executive Order 9017, created the National War Labor Board. Whereas, the order read in part, by reason of the state of war declared to exist by joint resolutions of Congress, . . . the national interest demands that there shall be no interruption of any work which contributes to the effective prosecution of the war; and Whereas as a result of a conference of representatives of labor and industry which met at the call of the President on December 17, 1941, it has been agreed that for the duration of the war there shall be no strikes or lockouts, and that all labor disputes shall be settled by peaceful means, and that a National War Labor Board be established for a peaceful adjustment of such disputes. Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States, it is hereby ordered: 1. There is hereby created in the Office for Emergency Management a National War Labor Board . . . .26 In this field, too, Congress intervened by means of the War Labor Disputes Act of June 25, 1943, 27 which, however, still left ample basis for presidential activity of a legislative character. 28

Sanctions Implementing Presidential Directives

To implement his directives as Commander-in-Chief in wartime, and especially those which he issued in governing labor disputes, President Roosevelt often resorted to sanctions, which may be described as penalties lacking statutory authorization. Ultimately, the President sought to put sanctions in this field on a systematic basis. The order empowered the Director of Economic Stabilization, on receiving a report from the National War Labor Board that someone was not complying with its orders, to issue directives to the appropriate department or agency requiring that privileges, benefits, rights, or preferences enjoyed by the noncomplying party be withdrawn. 29

Sanctions were also occasionally employed by statutory agencies, such as OPA, to supplement the penal provisions of the Emergency Price Control Act of January 30, 1942. 30 In Steuart & Bro. v. Bowles, 31 the Supreme Court had the opportunity to regularize this type of executive emergency legislation. Here, a retail dealer in fuel oil was charged with having violated a rationing order of OPA by obtaining large quantities of oil from its supplier without surrendering ration coupons, by delivering many thousands of gallons of fuel oil without requiring ration coupons, and so on, and was prohibited by the agency from receiving oil for resale or transfer for the ensuing year. The offender conceded the validity of the rationing order in support of which the suspension order was issued but challenged the validity of the latter as imposing a penalty that Congress had not enacted and asked the district court to enjoin it.

The court refused to do so and was sustained by the Supreme Court in its position. Justice Douglas wrote for the Court: [W]ithout rationing, the fuel tanks of a few would be full; the fuel tanks of many would be empty. Some localities would have plenty; communities less favorably situated would suffer. Allocation or rationing is designed to eliminate such inequalities and to treat all alike who are similarly situated. . . . But middlemen – wholesalers and retailers – bent on defying the rationing system could raise havoc with it. . . . These middlemen are the chief if not the only conduits between the source of limited supplies and the consumers. From the viewpoint of a rationing system a middleman who distributes the product in violation and disregard of the prescribed quotas is an inefficient and wasteful conduit. . . . Certainly we could not say that the President would lack the power under this Act to take away from a wasteful factory and route to an efficient one a precious supply of material needed for the manufacture of articles of war. . . . From the point of view of the factory owner from whom the materials were diverted the action would be harsh. . . . But in times of war the national interest cannot wait on individual claims to preference. . . . Yet if the President has the power to channel raw materials into the most efficient industrial units and thus save scarce materials from wastage it is difficult to see why the same principle is not applicable to the distribution of fuel oil.32 Sanctions were, therefore, constitutional when the deprivations they wrought were a reasonably implied amplification of the substantive power which they supported and were directly conservative of the interests which this power was created to protect and advance. It is certain, however, that sanctions not uncommonly exceeded this pattern. 33

The Postwar Period

The end of active hostilities did not terminate either the emergency or the Federal Government's response to it. President Truman proclaimed the termination of hostilities on December 31, 1946, 34 and, in July 1947, Congress enacted a joint resolution that repealed a great variety of wartime statutes and set termination dates for others. 35 Signing the resolution, the President said that the emergencies declared in 1939 and 1940 continued to exist and that it was not possible at this time to provide for terminating all war and emergency powers.36 The hot war was giving way to the Cold War.

Congress thereafter enacted a new Housing and Rent Act to continue the controls begun in 1942 37 and continued the military draft. 38 With the outbreak of the Korean War, legislation was enacted establishing general presidential control over the economy again, 39 and by executive order the President created agencies to exercise the power. 40 The Court continued to assume the existence of a state of wartime emergency prior to Korea, but with misgivings. In Woods v. Cloyd W. Miller Co., 41 the Court held constitutional the new rent control law on the ground that cessation of hostilities did not end the government’s war power, but that the power continued to remedy the evil arising out of the emergency. Yet, Justice Douglas noted for the Court, We recognize the force of the argument that the effects of war under modern conditions may be felt in the economy for years and years, and that if the war power can be used in days of peace to treat all the wounds which war inflicts on our society, it may not only swallow up all other powers of Congress but largely obliterate the Ninth and Tenth Amendments as well. There are no such implications in today’s decision.42 Justice Jackson, though concurring, noted that he found the war power the most dangerous one to free government in the whole catalogue of powers and cautioned that its exercise be scrutinized with care.43 And, in Ludecke v. Watkins, 44 four dissenting Justices were prepared to hold that the presumption in the statute under review of continued war with Germany was a pure fiction and not to be used.

But the postwar period was a time of reaction against the wartime exercise of power by President Roosevelt, and President Truman was not permitted the same liberties. The Twenty-second Amendment, writing into permanent law the two-term custom, the Great Debate about our participation in NATO, the attempt to limit the treaty-making power, and other actions, bespoke the reaction. 45 The Supreme Court signalized this reaction when it struck down the President’s action in seizing the steel industry while it was struck during the Korean War. 46

Nonetheless, the long period of the Cold War and of active hostilities in Korea and Indochina, in addition to the issue of the use of troops in the absence of congressional authorization, further created conditions for consolidation of powers in the President. In particular, a string of declarations of national emergencies, most, in whole or part, under the Trading with the Enemy Act, 47 undergirded the exercise of much presidential power. In the storm of response to the Vietnamese conflict, here, too, Congress reasserted legislative power to curtail what it viewed as excessive executive power, repealing the Trading with the Enemy Act and enacting in its place the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 48 which did not alter most of the range of powers delegated to the President but which did change the scope of the power delegated to declare national emergencies. 49 Congress also passed the National Emergencies Act, prescribing procedures for the declaration of national emergencies, for their termination, and for presidential reporting to Congress in connection with national emergencies. To end the practice of declaring national emergencies for an indefinite duration, Congress provided that any emergency not otherwise terminated would expire one year after its declaration unless the President published in the Federal Register and transmitted to Congress a notice that the emergency would continue in effect. 50

The Cold War and After: Presidential Power to Use Troops Overseas Without Congressional Authorization

Reaction after World War II did not persist, but soon ran its course, and the necessities, real and perceived, of the United States’ role as world power and chief guarantor of the peace operated to expand the powers of the President and to diminish congressional powers in the foreign relations arena. President Truman did not seek congressional authorization before sending troops to Korea, and subsequent Presidents similarly acted on their own in putting troops into many foreign countries, including the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf, and most notably Indochina. 51 Eventually, public opposition precipitated another constitutional debate whether the President had the authority to commit troops to foreign combat without the approval of Congress, a debate that went on inconclusively between Congress and Executive 52 and one which the courts were content generally to consign to the exclusive consideration of those two bodies. The substance of the debate concerns many facets of the President’s powers and responsibilities, including his obligations to protect the lives and property of United States citizens abroad, to execute the treaty obligations of the Nation, to further the national security interests of the Nation, and to deal with aggression and threats of aggression as they confront him. Defying neat summarization, the considerations nevertheless merit at least an historical survey and an attempted categorization of the arguments.

The Historic Use of Force Abroad

In 1912, the Department of State published a memorandum prepared by its Solicitor which set out to justify the Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces. 53 In addition to the justification, the memorandum summarized 47 instances in which force had been used, in most of them without any congressional authorization. Twice revised and reissued, the memorandum was joined by a 1928 independent study and a 1945 work by a former government official in supporting conclusions that drifted away from the original justification of the use of United States forces abroad to the use of such forces at the discretion of the President and free from control by Congress. 54

New lists and revised arguments were published to support the actions of President Truman in sending troops to Korea and of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in sending troops first to Vietnam and then to Indochina generally, 55 and new lists have been propounded. 56 The great majority of the instances cited involved fights with pirates, landings of small naval contingents on barbarous or semibarbarous coasts to protect commerce, the dispatch of small bodies of troops to chase bandits across the Mexican border, and the like, and some incidents supposedly without authorization from Congress did in fact have underlying statutory or other legislative authorization. Some instances, e.g., President Polk’s use of troops to precipitate war with Mexico in 1846, President Grant’s attempt to annex the Dominican Republic, President McKinley’s dispatch of troops into China during the Boxer Rebellion, involved considerable exercises of presidential power, but in general purposes were limited and congressional authority was sought for the use of troops against a sovereign state or in such a way as to constitute war. The early years of this century saw the expansion in the Caribbean and Latin America both of the use of troops for the furthering of what was perceived to be our national interests and of the power of the President to deploy the military force of the United States without congressional authorization. 57

The pre-war actions of Presidents Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt advanced in substantial degrees the fact of presidential initiative, although the theory did not begin to catch up with the fact until the Great Debate over the commitment of troops by the United States to Europe under the Atlantic Pact. While congressional authorization was obtained, that debate, the debate over the United Nations charter, and the debate over Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, declaring that armed attack against one signatory was to be considered as an attack against all signatories, provided the occasion for the formulation of a theory of independent presidential power to use the armed forces in the national interest at his discretion. 58 Thus, Secretary of State Acheson told Congress: Not only has the President the authority to use the armed forces in carrying out the broad foreign policy of the United States implementing treaties, but it is equally clear that this authority may not be interfered with by the Congress in the exercise of powers which it has under the Constitution.59

The Theory of Presidential Power

The fullest expression of the presidential power proponents has been in defense of the course followed in Indochina. Thus, the Legal Adviser of the State Department, in a widely circulated document, contended: Under the Constitution, the President, in addition to being Chief Executive, is Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. He holds the prime responsibility for the conduct of United States foreign relations. These duties carry very broad powers, including the power to deploy American forces abroad and commit them to military operations when the President deems such action necessary to maintain the security and defense of the United States. . . .

In 1787 the world was a far larger place, and the framers probably had in mind attacks upon the United States. In the 20th century, the world has grown much smaller. An attack on a country far from our shores can impinge directly on the nation’s security. In the SEATO treaty, for example, it is formally declared that an armed attack against Viet Nam would endanger the peace and security of the United States.

Under our Constitution it is the President who must decide when an armed attack has occurred. He has also the constitutional responsibility for determining what measures of defense are required when the peace and safety of the United States are endangered. If he considers that deployment of U.S. forces to South Viet Nam is required, and that military measures against the source of Communist aggression in North Viet Nam are necessary, he is constitutionally empowered to take those measures.60

Opponents of such expanded presidential powers have contended, however, that the authority to initiate war was not divided between the Executive and Congress but was vested exclusively in Congress. The President had the duty and the power to repeal sudden attacks and act in other emergencies, and in his role as Commander in Chief he was empowered to direct the armed forces for any purpose specified by Congress. 61 Though Congress asserted itself in some respects, it never really managed to confront the President’s power with any sort of effective limitation, until recently.

The Power of Congress to Control the President’s Discretion

Over the President’s veto, Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution, 62 designed to redistribute the war powers between the President and Congress. Although ambiguous in some respects, the Resolution appears to define restrictively the President’s powers, to require him to report fully to Congress upon the introduction of troops into foreign areas, to specify a maximum time limitation on the engagement of hostilities absent affirmative congressional action, and to provide a means for Congress to require cessation of hostilities in advance of the time set.

The Resolution states that the President’s power to commit United States troops into hostilities, or into situations of imminent involvement in hostilities, is limited to instances of (1) a declaration of war, (2) a specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by an attack on the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces. 63 In the absence of a declaration of war, a President must within 48 hours report to Congress whenever he introduces troops (1) into hostilities or situations of imminent hostilities, (2) into a foreign nation while equipped for combat, except in certain nonhostile situations, or (3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States troops equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation. 64 If the President introduces troops in the first of these three situations, then he must terminate the use of troops within 60 days after his report was submitted or was required to be submitted to Congress, unless Congress (1) has declared war, (2) has extended the period, or (3) is unable to meet as a result of an attack on the United States, but the period can be extended another 30 days by the President’s certification to Congress of unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of the troops. 65 Congress may through the passage of a concurrent resolution require the President to remove the troops sooner. 66 The Resolution further states that no legislation, whether enacted prior to or subsequent to passage of the Resolution will be taken to empower the President to use troops abroad unless the legislation specifically does so and that no treaty may so empower the President unless it is supplemented by implementing legislation specifically addressed to the issue. 67

Aside from its use as a rhetorical device, the War Powers Resolution has been of little worth in reordering presidential-congressional relations in the years since its enactment. All Presidents operating under it have expressly or implicitly considered it to be an unconstitutional infringement on presidential powers, and on each occasion of use abroad of United States troops the President in reporting to Congress has done so consistent[ly] with the reporting section but not pursuant to the provision. 68 Upon the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops in 1990, President Bush sought not congressional authorization but a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force by member Nations. Only at the last moment did the President seek authorization from Congress, he and his officials contending that he had the power to act unilaterally. 69 After intensive debate, Congress voted, 250 to 183 in the House of Representatives and 53 to 46 in the Senate, to authorize the President to use United States troops pursuant to the U.N. resolution and purporting to bring the act within the context of the War Powers Resolution. 70

By contrast, President George W. Bush sought a resolution from Congress in 2002 to approve the eventual invasion of Iraq before seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution, all the while denying that express authorization from Congress, or for that matter, the U.N. Security Council, was necessary to renew hostilities in Iraq. Prior to adjourning for its midterm elections, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002, 71 which it styled as specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution. On signing the measure, the President noted that he had sought an additional resolution of support from Congress, and expressed appreciation for receiving that support, but stated, my request for it did not, and my signing this resolution does not, constitute any change in the long-standing positions of the executive branch on either the President’s constitutional authority to use force to deter, prevent, or respond to aggression or other threats to U.S. interests or on the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution.72 In the Bush administration’s view, the primary benefit of receiving authorization from Congress seems to have been the message of political unity it conveyed to the rest of the world rather than the fulfillment of any constitutional requirements.

Although there is recurrent talk within Congress and without as to amending the War Powers Resolution to strengthen it, no consensus has emerged, and there is little evidence that there exists within Congress the resolve to exercise the responsibility concomitant with strengthening it. 73

The President as Commander of the Armed Forces

While the President customarily delegates supreme command of the forces in active service, there is no constitutional reason why he should do so, and he has been known to resolve personally important questions of military policy. Lincoln early in 1862 issued orders for a general advance in the hopes of stimulating McClellan to action; Wilson in 1918 settled the question of an independent American command on the Western Front; Truman in 1945 ordered that the bomb be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 74 As against an enemy in the field, the President possesses all the powers which are accorded by international law to any supreme commander. He may invade the hostile country, and subject it to the sovereignty and authority of the United States.75 In the absence of attempts by Congress to limit his power, he may establish and prescribe the jurisdiction and procedure of military commissions, and of tribunals in the nature of such commissions, in territory occupied by Armed Forces of the United States, and his authority to do this sometimes survives cessation of hostilities. 76 He may employ secret agents to enter the enemy’s lines and obtain information as to its strength, resources, and movements. 77 He may, at least with the assent of Congress, authorize commercial intercourse with the enemy. 78 He may also requisition property and compel services from American citizens and friendly aliens who are situated within the theater of military operations when necessity requires, thereby incurring for the United States the obligation to render just compensation.79 By the same warrant, he may bring hostilities to a conclusion by arranging an armistice, stipulating conditions that may determine to a great extent the ensuing peace. 80 He may not, however, effect a permanent acquisition of territory, 81 though he may govern recently acquired territory until Congress sets up a more permanent regime. 82

The President is the ultimate tribunal for the enforcement of the rules and regulations that Congress adopts for the government of the forces, and that are enforced through courts-martial. 83 Indeed, until 1830, courts-martial were convened solely on the President’s authority as Commander in Chief. 84 Such rules and regulations are, moreover, it seems, subject in wartime to his amendment at discretion. 85 Similarly, the power of Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces (Art. I, § 8, cl. 14) did not prevent President Lincoln from promulgating, in April, 1863, a code of rules to govern the conduct in the field of the armies of the United States, which was prepared at his instance by a commission headed by Francis Lieber and which later became the basis of all similar codifications both here and abroad. 86 One important power that the President lacks is that of choosing his subordinates, whose grades and qualifications are determined by Congress and whose appointment is ordinarily made by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, though undoubtedly Congress could if it wished vest their appointment in the President alone.87 Also, the President’s power to dismiss an officer from the service, once unlimited, is today confined by statute in time of peace to dismissal in pursuance of the sentence of a general court-martial or in mitigation thereof.88 But the provision is not regarded by the Court as preventing the President from displacing an officer of the Army or Navy by appointing with the advice and consent of the Senate another person in his place. 89 The President’s power of dismissal in time of war Congress has never attempted to limit.

The Commander-in-Chief a Civilian Officer

Is the Commander-in-Chiefship a military or a civilian office in the contemplation of the Constitution? Unquestionably the latter. An opinion by a New York surrogate deals adequately, though not authoritatively, with the subject: The President receives his compensation for his services, rendered as Chief Executive of the Nation, not for the individual parts of his duties. No part of his compensation is paid from sums appropriated for the military or naval forces; and it is equally clear under the Constitution that the President’s duties as Commander in Chief represent only a part of duties ex officio as Chief Executive [Article II, sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution] and that the latter’s office is a civil office. [Article II, section 1 of the Constitution . . . .] The President does not enlist in, and he is not inducted or drafted into, the armed forces. Nor, is he subject to court-martial or other military discipline. On the contrary, Article II, section 4 of the Constitution provides that ‘The President, [Vice President] and All Civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ . . . The last two War Presidents, President Wilson and President Roosevelt, both clearly recognized the civilian nature of the President’s position as Commander in Chief. President Roosevelt, in his Navy Day Campaign speech at Shibe Park, Philadelphia, on October 27, 1944, pronounced this principle as follows:–‘It was due to no accident and no oversight that the framers of our Constitution put the command of our armed forces under civilian authority. It is the duty of the Commander in Chief to appoint the Secretaries of War and Navy and the Chiefs of Staff.’ It is also to be noted that the Secretary of War, who is the regularly constituted organ of the President for the administration of the military establishment of the Nation, has been held by the Supreme Court of the United States to be merely a civilian officer, not in military service. (United States v. Burns, 79 U.S. (12 Wall.) 246 (1871)). On the general principle of civilian supremacy over the military, by virtue of the Constitution, it has recently been said: ‘The supremacy of the civil over the military is one of our great heritages.’ Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304, 325 (1945).90

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1The Federalist No. 69, at 465 (Alexander Hamilton) (Jacob E. Cooke ed., 1961).
  2.  Jump to essay-23 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 1486 (1833).
  3.  Jump to essay-3Fleming v. Page, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 603, 615, 618 (1850).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 139 (1866).
  5.  Jump to essay-51 Stat. 424 (1795): 2 Stat. 443 (1807), now 10 U.S.C. §§ 331-334. See also Martin v. Mott, 25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 19, 32–33 (1827), asserting the finality of the President’s judgment of the existence of a state of facts requiring his exercise of the powers conferred by the act of 1795.
  6.  Jump to essay-67 J. Richardson, supra, at 3221, 3232.
  7.  Jump to essay-767 U.S. (2 Bl.) 635 (1863).
  8.  Jump to essay-87 J. Richardson, supra, at 3215, 3216, 3481.
  9.  Jump to essay-967 U.S. (2 Bl.) at 668–70.
  10.  Jump to essay-10See generally, E. Corwin, Total War and the Constitution (1946).
  11.  Jump to essay-1112 Stat. 326 (1861).
  12.  Jump to essay-12J. Randall, Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln 118–139 (rev. ed. 1951).
  13.  Jump to essay-13E.g., Attorney General Biddle’s justification of seizure of a plant during World War II: As Chief Executive and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, the President possesses an aggregate of powers that are derived from the Constitution and from various statutes enacted by the Congress for the purpose of carrying on the war. . . . In time of war when the existence of the nation is at stake, this aggregate of powers includes authority to take reasonable steps to prevent nation-wide labor disturbances that threaten to interfere seriously with the conduct of the war. The fact that the initial impact of these disturbances is on the production or distribution of essential civilian goods is not a reason for denying the Chief Executive and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy the power to take steps to protect the nation’s war effort. 40 Ops. Atty. Gen. 312, 319-320 (1944). Prior to the actual beginning of hostilities, Attorney General Jackson asserted the same justification upon seizure of an aviation plant. E. Corwin, Total War and the Constitution 47-48 (1946).
  14.  Jump to essay-1456 Stat. 23 (1942).
  15.  Jump to essay-1588 Cong. Rec. 7044 (1942). Congress promptly complied, 56 Stat. 765 (1942), so that the President was not required to act on his own. But see E. Corwin, supra, 65-66.
  16.  Jump to essay-16For a listing of the agencies and an account of their creation to the close of 1942, see Vanderbilt, War Powers and Their Administration, in 1942 Annual Survey of American Law 106 (New York Univ.).
  17.  Jump to essay-17143 F.2d 145 (D.C. Cir. 1944).
  18.  Jump to essay-18143 F.2d at 149.
  19.  Jump to essay-19E. Corwin, supra at 244, 245, 459.
  20.  Jump to essay-20E.O. 9066, 7 Fed. Reg. 1407 (1942).
  21.  Jump to essay-2156 Stat. 173 (1942).
  22.  Jump to essay-22Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 91–92 (1943).
  23.  Jump to essay-23Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). Long afterward, in 1984, a federal court granted a writ of coram nobis and overturned Korematsu’s conviction, Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406 (N.D.Cal. 1984), and in 1986, a federal court vacated Hirabayashi’s conviction for failing to register for evacuation but let stand the conviction for curfew violations. Hirabayashi v. United States, 627 F. Supp. 1445 (W.D.Wash. 1986). Other cases were pending, but Congress then implemented the recommendations of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians by acknowledging the fundamental injustice of the evacuation, relocation and internment, and apologizing on behalf of the people of the United States. Pub. L. 100-383, 102 Stat. 903 (1988), 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 1989 et seq. Reparations were approved, and each living survivor of the internment was to be compensated in an amount roughly approximating $20,000.
  24.  Jump to essay-24E.O. 8773, 6 Fed. Reg. 2777 (1941).
  25.  Jump to essay-25E. Corwin, Total War and the Constitution 47–48 (1946).
  26.  Jump to essay-267 Fed. Reg. 237 (1942).
  27.  Jump to essay-2757 Stat. 163 (1943).
  28.  Jump to essay-28See Vanderbilt, War Powers and their Administration, in 1945 Annual Survey of American Law 254, 271–273 (N.Y. Univ.).
  29.  Jump to essay-29E.O. 9370, 8 Fed. Reg. 11463 (1943).
  30.  Jump to essay-3056 Stat. 23 (1942).
  31.  Jump to essay-31322 U.S. 398 (1944).
  32.  Jump to essay-32322 U.S. at 405–06.
  33.  Jump to essay-33E. Corwin, supra, at 249-250.
  34.  Jump to essay-34Proc. 2714, 12 Fed. Reg. 1 (1947).
  35.  Jump to essay-35S.J. Res. 123, 61 Stat. 449 (1947).
  36.  Jump to essay-36Woods v. Cloyd W. Miller Co., 333 U.S. 138, 140 n.3 (1948).
  37.  Jump to essay-3761 Stat. 193 (1947).
  38.  Jump to essay-3862 Stat. 604 (1948).
  39.  Jump to essay-39Defense Production Act of 1950, 64 Stat. 798.
  40.  Jump to essay-40E.O. 10161, 15 Fed. Reg. 6105 (1950).
  41.  Jump to essay-41333 U.S. 138 (1948).
  42.  Jump to essay-42333 U.S. at 143–44.
  43.  Jump to essay-43333 U.S. at 146–47.
  44.  Jump to essay-44335 U.S. 160, 175 (1948).
  45.  Jump to essay-45See A. Kelly & W. Harbison, The American Constitution: Its Origins and Development, ch. 31 (4th ed. 1970).
  46.  Jump to essay-46Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952).
  47.  Jump to essay-47§ 301(1), 55 Stat. 838, 839-840 (1941).
  48.  Jump to essay-4891 Stat. 1626, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1701-1706.
  49.  Jump to essay-49Congress authorized the declaration of a national emergency based only on any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or the economy of the United States . . . . 50 U.S.C. § 1701.
  50.  Jump to essay-50Pub. L. No. 94-412, 90 Stat. 1255 (1976).
  51.  Jump to essay-51See the discussion in National Commitments Resolution, Report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, S. Rep. No. 91-129, 91st Congress, 1st sess. (1969); U.S. Commitments to Foreign Powers: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, 1st sess. (1967) at 16–19 (Professor Bartlett).
  52.  Jump to essay-52See discussion under Article I, § 8, cls. 11-14.
  53.  Jump to essay-53J. Clark, Memorandum by the Solicitor for the Department of State, in Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces (1912).
  54.  Jump to essay-54Id. (Washington: 1929; 1934); M. Offutt, The Protection of Citizens Abroad by the Armed Forces of the United States (1928); J. Rogers, World Policing and the Constitution (1945). The burden of the last cited volume was to establish that the President was empowered to participate in United Nations peacekeeping actions without having to seek congressional authorization on each occasion; it may be said to be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, propoundings of the doctrine of inherent presidential powers to use troops abroad outside the narrow compass traditionally accorded those powers.
  55.  Jump to essay-55E.g., H. Rep. No. 127, 82d Congress, 1st Sess. (1951), 55–62; Corwin, Who Has the Power to Make War? New York Times Magazine (July 31, 1949), 11; Authority of the President to Repel the Attack in Korea, 23 Dept. State Bull. 173 (1950); Department of State, Historical Studies Division, Armed Actions Taken by the United States Without a Declaration of War, 1789-1967 (Res. Proj. No. 806A (Washington: 1967)). That the compilation of such lists was more than a defense against public criticism can be gleaned from a revealing discussion in Secretary of State Acheson’s memoirs detailing why the President did not seek congressional sanction for sending troops to Korea. There has never, I believe, been any serious doubt – in the sense of non-politically inspired doubt – of the President’s constitutional authority to do what he did. The basis for this conclusion in legal theory and historical precedent was fully set out in the State Department’s memorandum of July 3, 1950, extensively published. But the wisdom of the decision not to ask for congressional approval has been doubted. . . .

    After discussing several reasons establishing the wisdom of the decision, the Secretary continued: The President agreed, moved also, I think, by another passionately held conviction. His great office was to him a sacred and temporary trust, which he was determined to pass on unimpaired by the slightest loss of power or prestige. This attitude would incline him strongly against any attempt to divert criticism from himself by action that might establish a precedent in derogation of presidential power to send our forces into battle. The memorandum that we prepared listed eighty-seven instances in the past century in which his predecessors had done this. And thus yet another decision was made. D. Acheson, Present at the Creation 414, 415 (1969).

  56.  Jump to essay-56War Powers Legislation: Hearings Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 92d Congress, 1st Sess. (1971), 347, 354–355, 359–379 (Senator Goldwater); Emerson, War Powers Legislation, 74 W. Va. L. Rev. 53 (1972). The most complete list as of the time prepared is Collier, Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798–1989, Cong. Res. Serv. (1989), which was cited for its numerical total in United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 273 (1990). For an effort to reconstruct the development and continuation of the listings, see F. Wormuth & E. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War 142–145 (2d ed. 1989).
  57.  Jump to essay-57Of course, considerable debate continues with respect to the meaning of the historical record. For reflections of the narrow reading, see National Commitments Resolution, Report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, S. Rep. No. 91-129, 1st Sess. (1969); J. Ely, War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath (1993). On the broader reading and finding great presidential power, see A. Sofaer, War, Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Power: The Origins (1976); Emerson, Making War Without a Declaration, 17 J. Legis. 23 (1990).
  58.  Jump to essay-58For some popular defenses of presidential power during the Great Debate, see Corwin, Who Has the Power to Make War? New York Times Magazine (July 31, 1949), 11; Commager, Presidential Power: The Issue Analyzed, New York Times Magazine (January 14, 1951), 11. Cf. Douglas, The Constitutional and Legal Basis for the President’s Action in Using Armed Forces to Repel the Invasion of South Korea, 96 Cong. Rec. 9647 (1950). President Truman and Secretary Acheson utilized the argument from the U.N. Charter in defending the United States actions in Korea, and the Charter defense has been made much of since. See, e.g., Stromseth, Rethinking War Powers: Congress, the President, and the United Nations, 81 Geo. L. J. 597 (1993).
  59.  Jump to essay-59Assignment of Ground Forces of the United States to Duty in the European Area: Hearings Before the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, 82d Congress, 1st Sess. (1951), 92.
  60.  Jump to essay-60Meeker, The Legality of United States Participation in the Defense of Viet Nam, 54 Dept. State Bull. 474, 484–485 (1966). See also Moore, The National Executive and the Use of the Armed Forces Abroad, 21 Naval War College Rev. 28 (1969); Wright, The Power of the Executive to Use Military Forces Abroad, 10 Va. J. Int. L. 43 (1969); Documents Relating to the War Powers of Congress, The President’s Authority as Commander-in-Chief and the War in Indochina, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 91st Congress, 2d sess. (Comm. Print) (1970), 1 (Under Secretary of State Katzenbach), 90 (J. Stevenson, Legal Adviser, Department of State), 120 (Professor Moore), 175 (Assistant Attorney General Rehnquist).
  61.  Jump to essay-61E.g., F. Wormuth & E. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War (2d ed. 1989), F.; J. Ely, War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath (1993); U.S. Commitments to Foreign Powers: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 90th Congress, 1st sess. (1967), 9 (Professor Bartlett); War Powers Legislation: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 92d Cong., 1st sess. (1971), 7 (Professor Commager), 75 (Professor Morris), 251 (Professor Mason).
  62.  Jump to essay-62Pub. L. No. 93-148, 87 Stat. 555, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1541-1548. For the congressional intent and explanation, see H. Rep. No. 93-287, S. Rep. No. 93–220, and H. Rep. No. 93-547 (Conference Report), all 93d Congress, 1st sess. (1973). The President’s veto message is H. Doc. No. 93-171, 93d Congress. 1st Sess. (1973). All this material is collected in The War Powers Resolution: Relevant Documents, Reports, Correspondence, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 103d Cong., 2d Sess. (Comm. Print) (GPO: 1994), 1-46. For a narrative account of passage and an assessment of the disputed compliance to date, from the congressional point of view, see The War Powers Resolution, A Special Study of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 102d Cong., 2d Sess. (Comm. Print) (GPO: 1982).
  63.  Jump to essay-6387 Stat. 554, 2(c), 50 U.S.C. § 1541(c).
  64.  Jump to essay-6450 U.S.C. § 1543(a).
  65.  Jump to essay-6550 U.S.C. § 1544(b).
  66.  Jump to essay-66Id. at § 1544(c). It is the general consensus that, following INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), this provision of the Resolution is unconstitutional.
  67.  Jump to essay-6750 U.S.C. § 1547(a).
  68.  Jump to essay-68See the text of the reports in The War Powers Resolution: Relevant Documents, Reports, Correspondence, supra at 47 (Pres. Ford on transport of refugees from Danang), 55 (Pres. Carter on attempted rescue of Iranian hostages), 73 (Pres. Reagan on use of troops in Lebanon), 113 (Pres. Reagan on Grenada), 144 (Pres. Bush on Panama), 147, 149 (Pres. Bush on Persian Gulf), 189 (Pres. Bush on Somalia), 262 (Pres. Clinton on Haiti).
  69.  Jump to essay-69See Crisis in the Persian Gulf Region: U.S. Policy Options and Implications: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, 101st Cong., 2d Sess. (1990), 701 (Secretary Cheney) (President did not require any additional authorization from the Congress before attacking Iraq). On the day following his request for supporting legislation from Congress, President Bush, in answer to a question about the requested action, stated: I don’t think I need it. . . . I feel that I have the authority to fully implement the United Nations resolutions. 27 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 25 (Jan. 8, 1991).
  70.  Jump to essay-70Pub. L. No. 102-1, 105 Stat. 3 (1991).
  71.  Jump to essay-71Pub. L. No. 107-243; 116 Stat. 1498 (2002). The House approved the resolution by a vote of 296-133. The Senate passed the House version of H.J. Res. 114 by a vote of 77-23.
  72.  Jump to essay-72See President’s Statement on Signing H.J. Res. 114, Oct. 16, 2002, available at [http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/Archive/2003/Oct/09-906028.html].
  73.  Jump to essay-73See, on proposals to amend and on congressional responsibility, J. Ely, War and Responsibility: Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath (1993).
  74.  Jump to essay-74For a review of how several wartime Presidents have operated in this sphere, see The Ultimate Decision: The President as Commander in Chief (E. May ed., 1960).
  75.  Jump to essay-75Fleming v. Page, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 603, 615 (1850).
  76.  Jump to essay-76Madsen v. Kinsella, 343 U.S. 341, 348 (1952). See also Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763, 789 (1950).
  77.  Jump to essay-77Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105 (1876).
  78.  Jump to essay-78Hamilton v. Dillin, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 73 (1875); Haver v. Yaker, 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 32 (1869).
  79.  Jump to essay-79Mitchell v. Harmony, 54 U.S. (13 How.) 115 (1852); United States v. Russell, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 623 (1871); Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105 (1876); 40 Ops. Atty. Gen. 250, 253 (1942).
  80.  Jump to essay-80Cf. the Protocol of August 12, 1898, which largely foreshadowed the Peace of Paris, 30 Stat. 1742 and President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which were incorporated in the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
  81.  Jump to essay-81Fleming v. Page, 50 U.S. (9 How.) 603, 615 (1850).
  82.  Jump to essay-82Santiago v. Nogueras, 214 U.S. 260 (1909). As to temporarily occupied territory, see Dooley v. United States, 182 U.S. 222, 230–31 (1901).
  83.  Jump to essay-83Swaim v. United States, 165 U.S. 553 (1897); and cases there reviewed. See also Givens v. Zerbst, 255 U.S. 11 (1921).
  84.  Jump to essay-8415 Ops. Atty. Gen. 297, n; cf. 1 Ops. Atty. Gen. 233, 234, where the contrary view is stated by Attorney General Wirt.
  85.  Jump to essay-85Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1, 28–29 (1942).
  86.  Jump to essay-86General Orders, No. 100, Official Records, War Rebellion, ser. III, vol. III; April 24, 1863.
  87.  Jump to essay-87See, e.g., Mimmack v. United States, 97 U.S. 426, 437 (1878); United States v. Corson, 114 U.S. 619 (1885).
  88.  Jump to essay-8810 U.S.C. § 804.
  89.  Jump to essay-89Mullan v. United States, 140 U.S. 240 (1891); Wallace v. United States, 257 U.S. 541 (1922).
  90.  Jump to essay-90Surrogate’s Court, Duchess County, New York, ruling July 25, 1950, that the estate of Franklin D. Roosevelt was not entitled to tax benefits under sections 421 and 939 of the Internal Revenue Code, which extends certain tax benefits to persons dying in the military services of the United States. New York Times, July 26, 1950, p. 27, col. 1.