In May 1985 President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order announcing a trade embargo against Nicaragua and, at the same time, terminated a friendship treaty with that country. In his message to Congress, he claimed that Nicaragua constituted a threat to the foreign policy inter ests and security of the United States.
The Treasury Department issued regulations prohibiting almost all imports of Nicaraguan products to the U.S., and restricting the export of certain goods to Nicaragua. The embargo, however, does not prevent providing services or sending money, nor does it cover goods which fit within a broad definition of humanitarian aid.
CCR attorneys filed a suit in federal court in Massachusetts, challenging the validity of the president’s actions. Plaintiffs included Joseph Sholkin and his company, Beacon Products Corp., which holds a contract to export plastics manufacturing machines to Nicaragua, and Thanksgiving Coffee, a company which contracted to import coffee from Nicaragua.
The suit charges that the president acted without constitutionally required congres sional approval. The framers of the Constitution did not intend the president to wield such unilateral power, and Congress authorizes such actions only in carefully prescribed emergency situations. If the president had sought congressional approval for the embargo, it would have been denied. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court of appeals held the case moot, because Congress amended the unconstitutional statute after the suit was filed.
David Cole, Michael Ratner; Margaret Ratner; with CCR cooperating attorneys Jonathan Shapiro and Jules Lobel