Legislators ask judge to intervene in Kosovo crisis

26 House members argue Clinton needs Congress to OK use of military

May 21, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-six members of the House moved yesterday to escalate their challenge to the airstrikes against Yugoslavia, asking a federal judge to declare promptly that the U.S. military may no longer take part in NATO's bombing campaign without Congress' approval.

The lawmakers, who had begun the constitutional lawsuit in April, sought to increase pressure on the Clinton administration by asking U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to hold a hearing in the first week of June and to rule on the challenge without a full-scale trial.

In their new filing, the House members -- including Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican -- argued that the War Powers Act requires Clinton to halt U.S. combat operations by Tuesday, unless he asks Congress for time to withdraw forces or unless Congress declares war or otherwise authorizes the hostilities.

Tuesday marks 60 days since the president told Congress he had committed troops to the conflict.

Congress' approval yesterday of money to pay for U.S. operations, they said, does not amount to necessary authorization for U.S. combat.

The lawsuit, initially filed by 17 lawmakers, led by Rep. Tom Campbell, a California Republican, has since gained nine more supporters. The group includes 22 Republicans and four Democrats.

Insisting that the Constitution gives Congress alone the authority to send U.S. military forces to war, the lawmakers argued that Clinton "is not threatening a war, he is fighting one."

The Clinton administration is expected to file, today or early next week, its first reply to the case.

It has told the lawmakers that it will ask Friedman to dismiss the case, on the theory that the lawmakers had no right to go to court and that the courts have no authority to rule on the dispute at this point.

The lawmakers stressed that they were not asking the judge to issue a direct order to Clinton to stop the U.S. air operations. Instead, they urged him to rule that Clinton will be acting unconstitutionally if he continues to use U.S. forces in the NATO air campaign.

Such a ruling, the legislators argued, would "set right" the relations between Congress and the president, satisfying the Constitution and the War Powers Act. After that, they said, Congress and the president could move to decide how to remedy those violations and how to make policy on Yugoslavia.

The Justice and State Departments did not respond to requests yesterday for comment on the new filing.

A separate challenge by Yugoslavia to the U.S. and NATO operations, based on international law, is awaiting a decision by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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