War powers verdict

December 18, 1990|By Newsday

HE WASN'T quite Solomon, but U.S. District Judge Harold Greene neatly split the difference between President Bush and the 54 Democratic members of Congress who filed suit to prevent Bush from going to battle against Iraq without a congressional declaration of war.

If there was a clear winner, it was the American people: Greene said in unequivocal terms that the Constitution gives Congress sole power to declare war. That point needed to be made, and he drove it home as plainly and as bluntly as possible.

But his ruling did not provide unalloyed solace either for Bush or his Democratic critics. Along with the warning to the president, there was an equally implicit rebuke for Congress.

Greene denied the no-war order that the Democrats sought. The time, he said, was "not yet ripe" for a judicial decision. If a majority, not just a tenth, of Congress' members had sought that restraint, he would have had to consider it.

In effect, the judge told Congress: Make up your collective mind. If you want to force the president to seek a declaration of war before he moves a single tank against Iraq, it is your privilege to do that. But don't bother taking him to court unless you have at least a majority on the same side. Sniping from the sidelines won't get you anywhere.

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