Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles v. Reagan Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

November 1983

Case Description 

Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles v. Reagan is a case which sought to use the U.S. legal system to enjoin the United States from deploying first-use nuclear missiles in Great Britain.

The threat of nuclear war was intensified in the 1980’s by the introduction of smaller, more accurate nuclear weapons. With these weapons came Pentagon theories of the viability of fighting nuclear wars. This dangerous combination of weapons, technology, and ideology resulted in the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe.

For more than four years, militant and imaginative resistance to these missiles came from the Women’s Peace Camp at the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common, 60 miles west of London. In November 1983, on the eve of the first cruise missile deployment, this resistance came to the U.S. A lawsuit was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles, 13 individual women and their children, and Representatives Ron Dellums of California and Ted Weiss of New York, both Democrats. The suit charged that their deployment violated international law as well as the U.S. Constitution.

The merits of these claims were never discussed. In July 1984 the federal court dismissed the case on the ground that there were no “judicially manageable standards” for a decision. The court of appeals in a brief opinion affirmed the dismissal; it held that the claims of the Greenham plaintiffs raised issues that courts were not empowered by the Constitution to decide. The issue of nuclear destruction was the prerogative of the elected branches of government. The claims of the congressional plaintiffs in this case were not yet a legitimate concern of the courts; the dispute between Congress and the President about responsibility for starting a nuclear war had not gone far enough to warrant intervention by a court. The opinion did not suggest a more appropriate time to return to court for a decision in this matter.