War Powers

War Powers

Article I, Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises...
To provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States...
To Declare War...
To raise and support Armies...
To provide and maintain a Navy
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces.

Article II, Section 2
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States

Introduction

The U.S. Constitution divides war powers between the executive and legislative branches. Article 1, Section 8, gives Congress the power to declare war, "raise and support armies," maintain the navy, and establish rules and regulations for both. Article II, Section 2 gives the president unspecified powers as "Commander in Chief." Many scholars argue that the drafters placed primary offensive war power with Congress because they did not trust the executive branch, based on their own experiences with the English monarch.

Today, people generally agree that the President's powers as Commander in Chief permit him to respond to sudden attacks and give him some defensive war powers; however, there is widespread disagreement about what else the President can do in exercising these powers. Some argue that the Constitution gives the President inherent war powers, which give him authority not spelled out in the Constitution to launch offensive operations, even though the Constitution appears to give such power to Congress.

Whenever the U.S. military has become engaged in combat or war, issues about the appropriate exercise and division of power between the two branches have been raised. These debates have been played out daily in our newspapers since the September 11 attacks.

What balance of powers should exist between the President and Congress with respect to war? Do the exigencies of modern society and modern warfare call for ways of thinking about these powers in ways that may have "astonished" the framers of the Constitution?1 Does it make a difference how these powers are exercised when the individual rights of citizens as opposed to suspected foreign enemies are affected? The starters for this topic will help you consider the exercise of war powers and examine the arguments about appropriate division of power between Congress and the President.

Advertisement