Syrian missile strikes and Judge Gorsuch: All about the Constitution

Justice Gorsuch will defend the Constitution, but will Congress? Will it take back its war-making prerogative from the presidency, and force presidents to defend actions like Syria to Congress?

President Trump announces U.S. cruise missile strike on Syria.

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2017 — On Thursday evening, while President Donald Trump dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the winter White House in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. Navy vessels fired 59 cruise missiles at the Shayrat airfield in Syria. It was the first military response by the Trump administration to an international crisis.

President Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida.

From Shayrat, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack against the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.

In a statement to the press, Trump said, “Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

A young Syrian victim of chemical attack.

Trump added that the U.S. military response was in the “national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

The U.S. missile attack killed at least 13 Syrians, destroyed military aircraft and hangers and damaged the airfield.

However, Pentagon spokesmen Captain Jeff Davis said, “Russian forces were notified [90 minutes] in advance of the strike,” adding that U.S. military planners “took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.”

The Russians may have gotten advance word—as did their Syrian allies indirectly—of the U.S. missile strike, but Congress was left in the dark.

Although many Republicans supported Trump’s Syrian action, ranking Senate Armed Services Committee member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement that the Trump administration informed him of the attack only after the missiles were in the air. He said the administration would have to “set out the legal justification for tonight’s action and any future military operations against the Assad regime as part of its consultations with Congress.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., added, “The president needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”

Republican Senator Rand Paul.

Trump was deeply moved by the suffering of innocent children in Syria, but emotions are not a solid or legitimate basis upon which to build foreign policy or commit acts of war. That is why the United States Constitution gives Congress, a deliberative body, the sole power to declare war.

Writing in Federalist No. 69, Alexander Hamilton said the U.S. president’s war-making powers “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces as first general and admiral … while that of the British king extends to DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature [Congress].”

In other news, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on Friday as the 113th Supreme Court Justice. It was the culmination of a bitter battle between those (primarily Republicans) who favor justices who interpret the Constitution based on the strict intent of the text, and those (mostly Democrats) who want them to re-imagine the English language and the law’s intent based on the creative “penumbras and emanations” simmering in their collective subconscious.

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch with President Trump.

In response to news of his nominee’s confirmation, Trump said Gorsuch “will serve the American people with distinction as he continues to faithfully and vigorously defend our Constitution.”

But on the weighty question of war, when will Congress defend its Constitutional prerogative as the nation’s sole war-making authority?

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