Legislators file suit against Bush over ending ABM treaty

June 12, 2002, 1:17AM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Thirty-one House members filed suit against President Bush on Tuesday in an effort to block the president from withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The United States officially leaves the treaty Thursday, six months after Bush announced his intention to do so. The Pentagon plans an earth-breaking ceremony Saturday at Fort Greely, Alaska, to begin construction on the first portion of a new missile interceptor system.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the lead plaintiff, said Bush does not have authority to unilaterally withdraw from a treaty and should first seek the consent of Congress. “The Constitution of the United States is being demolished and we need to challenge that in court,” he said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also names Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell as defendants. The plaintiffs are all Democrats, except for one independent who usually votes with Democrats.

It states that while the Constitution is silent on the role of Congress in treaty terminations, treaties have the status of “supreme law of the land” equivalent to federal laws and that laws can be repealed only by an act of Congress.

“I am troubled that many in Congress appear willing to cede our constitutional responsibility on this matter to the executive branch,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. He tried unsuccessfully Monday to bring a resolution to the Senate floor stating the president cannot withdraw from the treaty without Senate approval.

Kucinich last week tried to get the House to vote on a similar resolution, but House Republicans unanimously rejected a motion to bring the issue to a vote. Republicans generally support withdrawal from the treaty, which prohibited the United States and Soviet Union from building missile defenses and has been an impediment to Bush’s plans for a missile defense system.

“This is so far out of touch,” said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a proponent of a missile defense system. “The end of the ABM treaty marks a significant milestone” enabling the Pentagon to adjust to post-Cold War changes and emerging threats, he said.

The lead lawyer for House lawmakers, Peter Weiss, said they are asking the court for expedited treatment of the suit. But he said that even if the court does not act by the withdrawal date, a later decision agreeing that Bush must first get congressional consent could be retroactive.

In House debate last week, Republicans argued that past presidents have terminated dozens of treaties without consulting Congress. Kucinich pointed to an 1835 House vote blocking President Jackson from pulling out of a treaty with France.

In 1979 the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., sued President Carter over his decision to terminate a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan when he established diplomatic relations with the Beijing government. The Supreme Court, without ruling on the constitutional issue, vacated or threw out an appeals court ruling in favor of Carter and ordered it sent back for reconsideration.