William & Mary

Reveley's role pivotal in war powers' report

  • Reveley on war powers
    Reveley on war powers  Taylor Reveley (center, rear), interim president of the College of William and Mary, stands amidst dignitaries who contributed to the war powers document.  Courtesy photo
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Get National War Powers Commission press release (pdf)

When he first began studying the war powers of the president and Congress, Taylor Reveley was finishing his last semester in law school and the Vietnam War was well under way.

"The more I delved into the respective authority of the president and Congress over our use of force abroad, the clearer it became that there are relatively few constitutional certainties about the war powers," said Reveley of his first research in this area in spring 1968. "I've been hooked on the mysteries of the war powers ever since."

Four decades later, William and Mary's interim president is still hooked on the subject.

Reveley served as co-director of the National War Powers Commission, a bipartisan group headed by former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher brought together to try to find a practical way of getting the president and congressional leaders to consult meaningfully about war and peace decisions as they are being made and to encourage Congress as a whole to make its views known about the end result. The commission -- a group formed by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia -- held a press conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill to release its findings. The commission's recommendations hinge on a proposed War Powers Consultation Act of 2009, meant to replace the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which has not worked in practice.

The commission's report recommends that Congress repeal the 1973 resolution and replace it with the 2009 act. The idea behind the proposal, according to the commission's report, is "ensuring that Congress has an opportunity to consult meaningfully with the president about significant armed conflicts and that Congress expresses its views."

"Questions of war and peace are among the most fundamental we engage as a country," Reveley said. "The president needs the independent views of congressional leaders when thinking about these questions if the country is to emerge with the wisest policies and with policies that will enjoy both congressional and executive support. The Constitution does impose one iron demand on the president and Congress: they must cooperate if any long-term American venture of war and peace is to succeed."

It's no surprise that Reveley -- who served for 10 years as dean of the William and Mary Law School before being appointed interim president in February 2008 – became a co-director of the commission. Since those final days as a law student at UVA, Reveley has become one of the country's foremost scholars on the subject. Reveley's "War Powers of the President and Congress – Who Holds the Arrows and Olive Branch?" is one of the leading books on the subject. He has testified and spoken often on the war powers over the years.

Reveley said the commission specifically did not try to resolve constitutional disagreements between the executive and legislative branches over the war powers. "That would have been feckless, doomed to failure," according to him. "Rather, the commission has tried to craft practical ways for the two branches to consult and collaborate."

Reveley points out that the commission's recommendations are prospective and not tied to anything in the past. He stressed also that it was critical to have a bipartisan commission if any practical results were to be achieved. In addition to the two secretaries of state, the commission included former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills, former Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh, Jr., former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Abner J. Mikva, former Admiral J. Paul Reason, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott.