Dellums V. Smith – International Law – CCR Docket 1985-1986

In July 1983 the CCR filed a federal complaint demanding an investigation of President Reagan’s violation of the Neu­trality Act in sponsoring war against Nicaragua. The suit, filed in California, was brought under the Ethics in Govern­ment Act, a law passed after the Watergate scandal to insure government accountability at the highest levels. The suit asked the Attorney General to conduct a preliminary investigation.

The action was filed on behalf of Congressman Ronald Dellums, 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 an 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 ” unreasonable” the Attorney General’s denial of their investigation request. The Attorney General moved for a reconsideration of the court’s decision, asserting that the Neutrality Act applies only to private citizens, not to the President or other government officials. The Attorney General claimed that his actions were not reviewable by the court. The court denied the Attorney General’s motion. If plaintiffs’ contentions were accepted, the court stated, ” there is a danger that, unless the violation be terminated, the nation may be involved in a war not declared by Congress.” The government appealed that decision. 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, most of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to the Attorney General, asking for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations of Neutrality Act violations by government officials. Again the Attorney General answered that the Neutrality Act does not apply to the acts of government officials. At stake in the CCR’s appeal is whether the President and other government officials are above the law. Despite the fact that the emergency appeal was argued in June 1984, the court has not yet decided the case.

Ellen Yaroshefsky, Michael Ratner, Sarah Wunsch, Margaret Ratner, Peter Weiss, with CCR cooperating attorney Jules Lobel and Marc Van Der Hout, National Lawyers Guild