Crockett v. Reagan Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

May 1981

Case Description 

In May 1981, Crockett v. Reagan was filed on behalf of 29 members of Congress who challenged U.S. military intervention in El Salvador. The case claimed that President Ronald Reagan violated the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C 1541, because he failed to comply with its reporting requirements and there was no congressional approval for the 55 U.S. advisers engaged in hostilities or facing imminent hostilities in El Salvador.

A second claim arose under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, 22 U.S.C. 2304, and the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1981, 22 U.S.C. 2370, which prohibit military and economic aid to countries engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violation of human rights. The President was required to certify periodically that the government of El Salvador was making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights, was achieving “substantial control over all elements of its own armed forces, so as to bring an end to the indiscriminate torture and murder of Salvadoran citizens by these forces,” was making continued progress in implementing “essential economic and political reforms,” and had demonstrated its “good faith efforts to begin discussions with all major political factions in El Salvador.” Plaintiffs claimed that the presidential certifications were wholly unsupported by the existing evidence.

Judge Joyce Hens Green of the federal district court in Washington, D.C., dismissed the claims without deciding the merits of the plaintiffs’ contentions. The court, in a lengthy opinion supportive of the aims and importance of the War Powers Resolution, held that, contrary to the government’s assertion, “Plaintiffs do not seek relief that would dictate foreign policy but rather to enforce existing law.” However, it eventually dismissed this count as presenting “unmanageable standards” for fact-finding. With regard to the human rights claims, Judge Green held that the plaintiffs’ dispute was really with fellow members of Congress and not justicable under the doctrine of equitable discretion.

Joining the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as amici on appeal were over 100 religious, peace, labor, and human rights groups. Five separate briefs were filed on behalf of these groups by attorneys for the National Council of Churches, the Lawyers Committee Against Intervention in Central America, the National Lawyers Guild, the Border Association for Refugees from Central America, and the International Human Rights Law Group.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision on the same grounds. Plaintiffs then filed a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied in June 1984.

The refusal of the Supreme Court to hear the case left in force the decision of the district court, holding that, under the proper circumstances, a court could intervene to stop presidential wars in violation of the War Powers Resolution.