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A plurality of the United States Supreme Court has concluded that a claim that the President was constitutionally required to obtain congressional consent before terminating a treaty could not be resolved by the courts. The basic question presented is "political" and therefore nonjusticiable because it involves the authority of the President in the conduct of the country's foreign relations and the extent to which the Senate or the Congress is authorized to negate the action of the President. The controversy is a nonjusticiable political dispute that should be left for resolution by the executive and legislative branches of the government.
Thirty-two members of the House of Representatives ("the congressmen") bring this action against President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld ("defendants") challenging President Bush's unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ("ABM Treaty") without the approval of Congress. The congressmen contend that because the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution classifies treaties, like Acts of Congress, as the "supreme law of the land," the President cannot terminate a treaty without congressional consent, any more than he could repeal a statute. Defendants counter that the congressmen lack standing to bring this action, that their complaint raises a nonjusticiable political question, and that their claim is not ripe. Defendants further contend that given the President's plenary power over foreign relations under the Constitution and the fact that the treaty authority is in Article II of the Constitution delineating the Executive Branch's powers, and in light of historical practice over the past 200 years, the President's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty without seeking congressional approval was constitutional.
Could the treaty termination issue be resolved by the courts?
The court declined to address the merits of the congressmen's claims, finding instead that the court lacked jurisdiction under U.S. Const. art. III. The court held that the congressmen had alleged only an institutional injury to Congress, not injuries that were personal and particularized to themselves, and the congressmen did not have standing to assert such an action. The fact that the congressmen alleged an institutional injury that deprived them of their constitutional right to participate in a treaty termination did not confer standing on them. The court also concluded that the issue raised by the congressmen was a nonjusticiable political question that should be resolved through the legislative and executive branches of government. Finally, the court determined that the issue was not ripe for adjudication because there was no showing that the branches of government had reached a constitutional impasse.