Dellums v. Meese – International Law – CCR Docket 1986-1987

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

The action was filed on behalf of Congressman Ronald 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 requested an investigation which the Attorney General had refused to conduct.

The court ordered the Attorney General to conduct the investigation within 90 days or, if the investigation was not completed by that time, to apply for the appointment of a special prosecutor. It reviewed the evidence submitted by plaintiffs and termed the Attorney General’s denial of their investiga­tion request  “unreasonable.”

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, and that the President ‘s actions were not reviewable by a court. The court denied the Attorney General ‘s 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.” The government then appealed. The Attorney General claimed on appeal that the President may legally spend tax dollars to overthrow a gov­ernment, even if Congress has forbidden such action.

Meanwhile, a majority of the members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote the Attorney General to ask for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the allegations of Neutrality Act violations .

The issue at stake in the appeal is whether the President and other government offi­cials are above the law. Although the appeal was prepared on an expedited basis, and argued in June of 1984, the Ninth Circuit has yet to issue an opinion. In April 1986 CCR attorneys filed a motion to vacate the circuit’s stay of the investigation. Initially, the stay had been granted on the ground that appellate review could be obtained on an expedited basis, but the court’s delay has negated that premise. The circuit has yet to rule on the motion.

Dauid Cole, Ellen Yaroshesky, Michael Ratner; Sarah Wunsch, Margaret Ratner; Peter Weiss, with CCR cooperating attorneys Jules Lobel and Marc Van Der Hout National Lawyers Guild (NLG)