Rose Speaker Series: Tom Campbell on “Uneasy Compromise”

Last Friday, the Rose Institute and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum jointly hosted the Dean of Chapman University School of Law Tom Campbell for a lunch talk in which he discussed the “uneasy compromise” forged between Congress and the President over declarations of war.

Campbell, a former five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, drew parallels between the United States’ military involvement in the Kosovo War in the late 90s’ and the current intervention in the Libyan civil war.

Citing the War Powers Resolution of 1973, Campbell argued that President Obama’s involvement in military action in Libya mirrored that of President Clinton’s air attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999. This comparison is significant, because it was Congressman Campbell who, in 1999, alongside a group of 17 bipartisan members of Congress, filed a lawsuit against President Clinton, asserting that the President had not obtained a declaration of war from Congress for his military involvement in the Kosovo/Yugoslavia conflict. Under the War Powers Resolution, the President must notify Congress within a 48 hour period of ordering troops to foreign action in addition to gaining approval for a formal declaration of war for conflicts lasting longer than 60 days. Congress had voted for the appropriation of funds for the war in Kosovo, but as Campbell argued, this was a moot point—the president still needed Congress’s approval for a declaration of war, as the tenure of the overseas conflict had exceeded 60 days.

Campbell’s suit was later dismissed in a federal court under the notion that the fund appropriation approval was indeed an implicit declaration of war. But Campbell argued that the essence of his point still remained: had the President violated the Constitution by not officially appealing to Congress, and was the War Powers Resolution a decent system for declaring armed conflict? Campbell’s talk asserted that the current situation in Libya was a replay of President Clinton’s involvement with Kosovo, as the United States military involvement in Libya is an ongoing conflict whose length far exceeds 60 days yet is based upon no formal Congressional declaration of war.

Emphasized in Campbell’s argument was the fact that the appropriateness of either conflict—Kosovo or Libya—offered a moot political point. Campbell presented himself as a legal scholar and thus was more concerned with the constitutionality of these wars, stating that Kosovo and Libya have been the only two conflicts in the past forty-odd years whose lack of congressional approval have continued passed the required 60 days. The ex-congressman warned that these actions can set dangerous legal precedents, claiming that the lack of current formal congressional debate regarding the Libyan conflict indicates a deliberate evasion of the law. Campbell concluded his presentation with the opinion that, while the War Powers Resolution may be flawed, it represents a pragmatic compromise between the President and Congress’s powers to declare armed conflict.

After his talk, Dean Campbell returned to the Rose Institute where he casually talked politics with Rose senior staff, student management, and research assistants. Topics ranged from state politics, like the discussion of Republican strategy for upcoming California elections, to matters like Campbell’s 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.

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