2 minute read

Schlesinger v. Holtzman


On 8 August, the court of appeals did hear the case. The court permanently reversed the district court's injunction on the bombing, allowing military action to proceed. The U.S. bombing missions had continued throughout this time period, even through the several hours that Douglas's reinstatement of the injunction was in effect. Eventually, the bombing did stop by mid-August as Congress had directed, and before the case could reach the full Supreme Court. The district court's earlier injunction against the bombing on behalf of a member of Congress was unique in U.S. legal history.

The doctrine also arose in non-war foreign policy issues such as Goldwater v. Carter in 1979 in which President Jimmy Carter sought to terminate a defense treaty with Taiwan in order to normalize relations with China. Due to the lack of congressional action to stop Carter, the Court dismissed the case. The Court found Carter's actions were inherently political and could not be judged in a court of law.

The Cambodian bombing issue also led to passage of the Wars Powers Act over Nixon's veto in November of 1973. In an effort to reclaim war powers from the presidency, the act empowered Congress to order troop withdrawals through joint house resolutions in cases where Congress had not declared war or given any other form of authorization. The War Powers Act, however, did not fare well in Supreme Court decisions, with the Court continuing to defer to the president in foreign policy. In responding to cases filed by members of Congress challenging use of U.S. forces in the Middle East in the late 1980s, the Court dismissed the cases by invoking the political question doctrine. Congressional attempts to reform the War Powers Act continued into the 1990s.

The Court also found congressional use of legislative vetoes unconstitutional in the 1983 Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha ruling. The Court held the use of such legal tools was counter to the constitutional principles of shared powers by circumventing presidential authority. Congress has continued to use them, however, with few legal challenges.

The Schlesinger case dramatized the Supreme Court's reluctance to be involved in disputes between the presidency and Congress over foreign policy in general, and issues of war in particular. The Court has consistently held that a true confrontation between Congress as a whole and the president must first occur before the Court should be brought into the dispute. In essence, the Court has chosen not to perform the work of Congress in contesting presidential actions. Congress has been very reluctant to appear not to back the president in foreign crises, especially where the safety of American forces are at risk. The political question doctrine has meanwhile served the purpose of not leaving federal courts open to undercutting national unity in times of crises.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Schlesinger v. Holtzman - Significance, A Unique Series Of Events, The Court Defers Action Again, Impact