On June 11, 2002 CCR filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 31 members of Congress charging President George W. Bush with acting unconstitutionally when he unilaterally terminated the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems. The ABM Treaty has been in effect since it was forged with the Soviet Union in 1972. On December 13, 2001 President Bush sent diplomatic notes to Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine giving notice of the withdrawal of the U.S. from the treaty. On no occasion did a majority of Congress or two thirds of the Senate assent to the termination of the treaty nor were they requested to do so by the President. Several members of Congress criticized Bush's decision but had no legislative recourse, which led them to file this suit.
The lawsuit challenges the President's authority to void a treaty entered into by the United States and ratified by the Senate with the assent of Congress. It asserts that the President's actions violate fundamental constitutional principles including the separation of powers and the President's obligation to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. The plaintiffs in the case include Congressional members led by Representative Dennis Kucinich (D. Ohio).
The ABM Treaty, known as "the cornerstone of strategic stability," prohibits the deployment of missile defenses to protect each party's national territory, and the development, testing, or deployment of sea, air, space, or mobile land-based anti-ballistic missile systems or components. Its purpose is to prevent a nuclear arms race.
"With this suit," said CCR Vice-President and lead counsel in the case, Peter Weiss, "members of Congress are asking the courts to decide for the first time a question of extreme importance in these days of a shrinking world, where the international is local and the local is international: Since the President cannot make or modify treaties without the assent of Congress, he cannot legally terminate them without such assent. Allowing him to do so would, in effect, allow him to nullify duly enacted treaties even on the very same day they were approved. It would be another step toward an imperial presidency and would be extremely destabilizing to the whole treaty-based system of international law."
"Unless the Courts intervene and perform their role of declaring what the constitution requires, the President will be able to ride roughshod over the constitution," said Jules Lobel CCR Vice-President and co-counsel on the case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.