U.S. Congress Overrides Presidential Veto to Pass the War Powers Act

The Vietnam War raised concerns about an “imperial presidency,” and the U.S. Congress moved to reassert its constitutional authority to curtail the war powers of the chief executive by overriding President Richard M. Nixon’s veto to pass the War Powers Act.


Questions regarding the constitutionality of the War Powers Act continued to persist into the twenty-first century. Although the courts have not ruled directly on the constitutionality of the act, the case of Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha (1983) Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha (1983) did address whether Congress has the right to exercise a legislative veto over an executive agency. Jagdish Chadha Chadha, Jagdish was a foreign-exchange student in Ohio studying political science. His parents were Indian in nationality, whereas he was born in Kenya. His student visa expired, and Chadha was threatened with deportation. The case hinged on Congress allowing the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) broad authority to determine deportations while the House and Senate still retain the ability to overrule immigration decisions by the INS. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not use this veto power because it violated principles of bicameralism and separation of powers. Vietnam War (1959-1975)
War Powers Act (1973)

Scholars contend that presidents still do not consult with Congress and are not predisposed to consider congressional interests in times of overseas conflict. Rather than restricting the use of armed forces, the War Powers Act allows the chief executive to pursue military objectives and to act unilaterally because of the ninety-day grace period for operations; Congress cannot force a withdrawal despite the enactment of this resolution. Some members of Congress have argued that the act has proven ineffective in improving communication between the legislative and executive branches and should be amended or repealed in its entirety. War Powers Act (1973)

Further Reading

  • Darling, W. Stuart, and D. Craig Mense. “Rethinking the War Powers Act.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 7 (1977): 126-136. Addresses the debate over the provisions of the War Powers Act and concludes that Congress and the president should have clearly defined expectations for the deployment of troops and overseas involvement. Argues that the act cannot anticipate every contingency, but it can help refine presidential foreign policy-making decisions.
  • Fisher, Louis. Presidential War Power. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995. Explores the evolution of executive war powers throughout American history and examines how Congress has attempted to restrict or place limits on these powers.
  • Grimmett, Richard F., ed. The War Powers Resolution. New York: Novinka Books, 2002. Collection of essays examines the uses of the War Powers Act from 1975 through 2001 and the issuing of reports from the administrations of Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
  • Howell, William G. Power Without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. Examines the influence of political institutions, conditions, and relations between the executive and judicial branches of the U.S. government on presidential policy making in the late twentieth century.
  • Javits, Jacob K. Who Makes War: The President Versus Congress. New York: William Morris, 1973. The senator’s memoir provides Javits’s own perspective on the introduction and passage of the War Powers Act.
  • Johnson, Robert David. Congress and the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Presents a historical interpretation of Congress during the Cold War period, making use of research conducted in several manuscript collections not open to scholars in the past. Challenges the perception that Congress was weak and ineffective against the executive branch by analyzing spending measures, the internal workings of various subcommittees, and how specific legislators influenced international policy.
  • Nathan, James A. “Revising the War Powers Act.” Armed Forces and Society 17 (Summer, 1991): 513-543. Contends that the War Powers Act contains ambiguities that confound the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government. Argues that improvements to the provisions of the statute and timeliness of its applications during a military undertaking would help resolve these issues.
  • Thomas, Ann Van Wynen, and A. J. Thomas. The War-Making Powers of the President. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1982. Presents a historical and analytic treatise on presidential versus congressional authority to conduct military action abroad.

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