Law Faculty Articles and Research

Fixing the War Powers Act, The Heritage Lectures

Ronald D. Rotunda, Chapman University


In 1973, Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution over President Nixon's veto.1 Supporters viewed the law2 as an effort to prevent another Vietnam, while opponents saw it as an unconstitutional effort to restrict the Commander in Chief while not achieving its well-intentioned goals.3 The law is now more than 21 years old. Like a young child growing up, it has reached its majority. Since then, liberals, conservatives, Republicans, and Democrats have all attacked the law. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME), for example, has complained that the law simply "has not worked." It "potentially undermines our ability to effectively defend our national interests" and "unduly restricts the authority granted by the Constitution to the President as Commander-in-Chief."4 Former President Ford agrees, calling the law both "unconstitutional" and "impractical."5 Presidents of both parties have been accused of ignoring it.6 With a pedigree like that, now is a good time to reevaluate the resolution.