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Lawmakers Sue Over ABM Pact Withdrawal: Lawsuit Seeks to Assert Congress's Role in Treaties

12 June 2002

Thirty-one members of Congress sued the Bush administration in federal court yesterday, charging that President Bush violated the Constitution when he decided earlier this year to drop a 30-year-old nuclear weapons pact with Russia.

The 12-page lawsuit asks a federal judge to order President Bush to stop plans for the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which is scheduled to take effect tomorrow.

The suit follows last week's unsuccessful attempt by Democrats in Congress who wanted to challenge the Bush decision through legislation. That plan failed in the House, 254-169.

In December, Bush gave Russia notice that he wanted to pull out of the treaty, saying he wanted the United States to be free to respond to nuclear threats from terrorists or rogue nations. The treaty requires six months' notice for any party to withdraw.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who led the House attempt to overturn Bush's decision, said yesterday the Constitution requires the president to obtain congressional approval before ending international treaties.

"The president can't pick and choose the laws he wants to repeal," Kucinich said yesterday. "We are taking this step to protect the right of Congress to take part in the lawmaking process."

Anne Womack, a White House spokeswoman, said administration officials had yet to see the suit and declined comment.

There is little constitutional case law on the role of the House or Senate in concluding treaties, but a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case might provide the administration with precedent.

Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) sued President Jimmy Carter for his unilateral decision to end the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan. A divided Supreme Court ruled that the president had the constitutional power to end a treaty, and Carter's decision was upheld.

"Given the Goldwater decision, I wouldn't expect that suit to get very far," said Mark Tushnet, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center.

Neely Tucker
Published in the Washington Post © 2002 The Washington Post Company

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