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Judge Throws Out Democrats' Suit Over War Powers : Says President's Compliance With Resolution in Persian Gulf Is a 'Political Question'

December 19, 1987|MELISSA HEALY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A federal district judge, saying it would be "both inappropriate and imprudent" to rule in a dispute over the War Powers Resolution, dismissed a lawsuit Friday that was brought by 110 Democratic lawmakers and sought to force the President to comply with the resolution if he wants to continue naval operations in the Persian Gulf.

In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge George H. Revercomb called the controversy over whether the 1973 resolution applies to Persian Gulf operations a "political question" that the courts have no right to resolve.

The lawmakers' dispute is rightly with "their fellow legislators," he said, and should be resolved in Congress.

The setback brought angry complaints from the Democratic plaintiffs, who charged that the court was shirking its duty. They said an appeal would be filed.

"This Congress and the American people need to find out if we have a War Powers Act that gives them their proper role in war-making," said Rep. Michael E. Lowry (D-Wash.) "If it does not do that, we had better fix it."

Stalemate Unchanged

The ruling leaves unchanged the stalemate between the Democrats in Congress who want to rein in the Administration's naval escort for Kuwaiti oil tankers and other lawmakers who are reluctant to challenge the President's foreign policy initiative.

In their lawsuit filed Aug. 7, the Democratic lawmakers called on the court to force Reagan to comply with the War Powers Resolution's requirement that Congress be notified when U.S. forces are introduced into situations where hostilities are "imminent." Unless Congress authorizes the operation, the President then has 90 days to withdraw the forces.

The Administration has refused to provide the notification, contending that the United States is not on the brink of war with Iran and that the resolution itself is an unconstitutional abrogation of the President's authority to conduct foreign policy.

In his decision, Revercomb noted that Congress itself has failed several times this year to adopt measures invoking the resolution.

"Although styled as a dispute between the legislative and executive branches of government, this lawsuit evidences and is indeed a byproduct of political disputes within Congress," the judge said.

Revercomb stressed that he was rendering no judgment on the constitutionality of the resolution. None will be forthcoming, he said, unless Congress eventually decides to demand presidential notification on the gulf operation and Reagan still refuses to provide it.

"A true confrontation between the executive (branch) and a unified Congress, as evidenced by its passage of legislation to enforce the resolution, would pose a question ripe for judicial review," he said.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), one of the plaintiffs, remarked: "What the court is saying, in effect, is that Congress must pass a law, despite a certain presidential veto, to enforce a law it already passed. That's absurd on the face of it."

In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders plan to establish a bipartisan commission next year to study whether the War Powers Resolution should be changed.

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