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Bench Memos

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“Dead Letters” and Selective Amnesia



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There is much in George Will’s column today with which I agree–even with his characterization of our war in Libya as “patently illegal.”  But this paragraph makes my head spin:

Some people, who know better, insist that although the [War Powers Resolution] is a 38-year-old law — passed over Richard Nixon’s veto — it is somehow a “dead letter.” Their theory is that any law a president considers annoying, or Congress considers inconvenient, or some commentators consider unwise, is for those reasons nullified.

As I showed three weeks ago, Will himself once held exactly the view he excoriates here.  Indeed, “dead letter” was his own phrase for the WPR just a dozen years ago:

The War Powers Resolution, with its baroque provisions for Congress to authorize and terminate military operations, is a dead letter, having been disregarded as unworkable and unconstitutional by every president since the resolution was passed over President Nixon’s veto in 1973.

Is George Will now categorizing his own younger self as one of those “commentators” whose views can be dismissed–or subtly declaring that he ought to have “know[n] better”?  If he has not forgotten his earlier view, and wishes to abandon it now for what he thinks is a better one, he is being a deal too subtle for me.



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