5 Presidents Who Were Sued By Members of Congress

Chief Executive Isn't Exempt From Civil Complaints Filed By Individual Lawmakers

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives made a bit of history in July 2014 when it voted to file a lawsuit against a sitting president, Barack Obama. It was the first-ever such legal challenge to be undertaken by a chamber of Congress against the commander-in-chief. 

But it wasn't the first time a president had been sued in court. In fact, there are plenty of cases in which individual members of Congress filed lawsuits against a president. Some of them centered on the war powers of a president and whether he needs congressional approval to take military action. Others dealt with a commander-in-chief's ability to strike out specific spending items in federal budgets passed by Congress.

Here are five modern-era presidents who were sued by a member or members of Congress.

George W. Bush

George W. Bush at a press conference
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President George W. Bush was sued by a dozen members of the House of Representatives in 2003 in an attempt to stop him from launching an invasion of Iraq.

The case, Doe v. Bush, was dismissed and the court noted that Congress had passed the Authorization for the ​Use of Force Against Iraq Resolution the previous year, granting Bush the power to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton And Bill Gates Testify At Senate Hearing On Global Health
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President Bill Clinton was sued for a similar reason in 1999, after he cited his authority “consistent with the War Powers Resolution” to allow U.S. involvement in NATO air and cruise missile strikes on Yugoslav targets.

Thirty-one members of Congress who were opposed to the Kosovo intervention filed the suit, Campbell V. Clinton, but were determine to no have standing in the case.

George H.W. Bush

George Bush Gesturing with His Hand
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President George H.W. Bush was sued by 53 members of the House of Representatives and a single U.S. senator in 1990 amid Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The lawsuit, Dellums v. Bush, sought to block Bush from attacking Iraq without getting approval from Congress.

The court did not rule on the case. Wrote Michael John Garcia, a legislative attorney for the Congressional Research Service:

"On the one hand, it noted, a majority of the Congress had taken no action on the matter of whether congressional authorization was needed in this instance; the plaintiffs, it observed, represented only about 10% of the Congress."

The court, in other words, wanted to see a majority of Congress, if not the entire Congress, authorize the suit before weighing in on the matter.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan
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President Ronald Reagan was sued by members of Congress several times over his decisions to use force or approve U.S. involvement in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada and the Persian Gulf. His administration prevailed in each of the cases.

In the largest suit, 110 members of the House joined legal action against Reagan in 1987 during the Persian Gulf war between Iraq and Iran. The lawmakers accused Reagan of violating the War Powers Resolution by sending U.S. escorts with Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Gulf.

Jimmy Carter

President Carter And Israeli Prime Minister Begin
Chuck Fishman / Getty Images

President Jimmy Carter was sued on a couple of occasions by members of Congress who argued that his administration didn't have the authority to do what it was seeking to do without approval from the House and Senate. They included the move to turn over a canal zone to Panama and ending a defense treaty with Taiwan. 

Carter was victorious in both cases.

It Isn't the First Lawsuit Against Barack Obama, Either

Like many of his predecessors, Obama was sued unsuccessfully on allegations he violated the War Powers Resolution, in this case getting the United States involved in Libya.

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Murse, Tom. "5 Presidents Who Were Sued By Members of Congress." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/presidents-sued-by-members-of-congress-3368121. Murse, Tom. (2021, July 31). 5 Presidents Who Were Sued By Members of Congress. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/presidents-sued-by-members-of-congress-3368121 Murse, Tom. "5 Presidents Who Were Sued By Members of Congress." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/presidents-sued-by-members-of-congress-3368121 (accessed February 8, 2023).