Today, a federal judge sided with Protect Democracy in ordering the Departments of Defense, State and Justice to move faster in disclosing President Trump’s legal authority to conduct military strikes against the Syrian regime. In the first court opinion to weigh in on President Trump’s April 6, 2017 Tomahawk cruise missile strikes on Assad, the judge expressed concern that the American people still have not had a chance to weigh in on whether the President has authority to conduct these strikes. As the court put it: “Being closed off from such a debate is itself a harm in an open democracy,” and pointed out that the escalating conflict in Syria means the Administration must rapidly get information to the American people before it’s too late. In the court’s words: “Military strikes cannot be undone.”
Protect Democracy had requested all three Departments produce documents reflecting what the Administration’s legal authority was for conducting the April 6 strike, and after the Administration conducted a second strike, Protect Democracy moved for a preliminary injunction. In today’s opinion, the Court ordered the Department of Defense and State Department to expedite processing of Protect Democracy’s FOIA request, as the Justice Department already had, and ordered the Departments to update the court in two weeks by July 28, a remarkably short timeline seemingly reflecting the Court’s recognition of the urgency of the increasing hostilities in Syria without a proper public debate, which is precisely what motivated Protect Democracy to bring this case.
Allison Murphy, Counsel for Protect Democracy, said: “This ruling reinforces a core principle of our democracy at a critical time: the President does not have a blank check to fire missiles whenever he wants at whomever he wants. While the Assad regime has committed horrible abuses, President Trump is constrained by the law and owes the American people an explanation of his legal authority for ordering these strikes — and for any new military strikes going forward. This decision is a critical defense of Americans’ right to be a check on the executive, as an informed citizenry, on one of the most consequential decisions our government can make, the decision to start a war.”