Dellums v. Meese – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket 1987-1988

In July 1983 the CCR filed a federal com­ plaint demanding an investigation of Pres­ident Reagan’s violation of the Neutrality Act for sponsoring a war against Nicara­gua. The suit asked the United States Attorney General to conduct a preliminary investigation.

The action was filed on behalf of Con­gressman Ron Dellums (D-CA), Dr. Myrna Cunningham, a Nicaraguan citizen injured in a counter-revolutionary raid, and Eleanor Ginsberg, a Florida resident, all of whom had previously requested an investigation which the attorney general had refused to conduct.

The court ordered the attorney general to conduct the requested investigation within 90 days or, if it was not completed by that time, to apply for the appointment of a special prosecutor. The attorney general asked the court to reconsider its decision, assert­ing that the Neutrality Act applies only to private citizens, not to the president or other government officials . The court denied the motion, noting that on the assumption that plaintiffs’ allegations were true “there is a danger that, unless the violations be terminated, the nation may be involved in a war not declared by Congress.”  On appeal, the attorney general claimed that the president may legally spend tax dollars to overthrow a govern­ment, even if Congress has forbidden such action.

Meanwhile, a majority of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee requested that the attorney general appoint independent counsel to investigate the allegations  of Neutrality Act viola­tions.

The court of appeals, after holding the case without a decision for two and a half years, ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the attorney gen­eral’s refusal to investigate the President’s allegedly illegal support for the contras. The court suggested, however, that the Judiciary Committee might have standing to do so.

The House Judiciary Committee again demanded that a special prosecutor investigate the President’s contra funding. In December 1986 the attorney general succumbed to pressure and agreed to ask that a special prosecutor be appointed. Plain­tiffs then notified the court of appeals that they would not need to proceed further because the relief that they had sought from the court had been otherwise obtained.

David Cole, Ellen Yaroshefsk y, Michael Ratner; Margaret Ratner; Peter Weiss, with CCR cooperating attorneys Jules Lobel and Marc Van Der Hout, National Lawyers Guild (NLG)