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                                                                                        Updated January 3, 2020
Defense Primer: Congress's Constitutional Authority with

Regard to the Armed Forces

The Congress shall have power *** ;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and
make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of
Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two

To provide and maintain a Navy.

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the
land and naval Forces.

In Lichter v. United States, 334 U.S. 742 (1948), the
Supreme Court discusses the war powers of Congress as
the sum of many interconnected authorities found in the
Constitution. Addressing the constitutionality of the
Renegotiation Act, an act allowing the government to
renegotiate contracts related to war supplies during WWII,
the Court declared that

    In view of this power 'To raise and support Armies,
    ... and the power granted in the same Article of the
    Constitution 'to make all Laws which shall be
    necessary and proper for carrying into Execution
    the foregoing Powers,' . . . the only question
    remaining is whether the Renegotiation Act was a
    law 'necessary and proper for carrying into
    Execution' the war powers of Congress and
    especially its power to support armies.
In a footnote, the Court listed the Preamble, the Necessary
and Proper Clause, the provisions authorizing Congress to
lay taxes and provide for the common defense, to declare
war, and to provide and maintain a navy, together with the
clause designating the President as Commander-in-Chief of
the Army and Navy, as being among the many other
provisions implementing the Congress and the President
with powers to meet the varied demands of war .... .

The power To declare War has long been construed to
mean not only that Congress can formally take the nation
into war, but also that it can authorize the use of the Armed
Forces for military expeditions that may not amount to war.
While a restrictive interpretation of the power To declare
War is possible, for example, by viewing the Framers' use
of the verb to declare rather than to make as an
indication of an intent to limit Congress's ability to affect
the course of a war once it is validly commenced,
Congress's other powers over the use of the military would
likely fill any resulting void. In practice, courts have not

sought to delineate the boundaries of each clause relating to
war powers or identify gaps between them to find specific
powers that are denied to Congress.

However, the Supreme Court has suggested that Congress
might overstep its bounds into presidential territory if it
were to interfere with the conduct of military operations.

  Congress has the power not only to raise and
  support and govern armies, but to declare war. It has
  therefore the power to provide by law for carrying on
  war. This power necessarily extends to all legislation
  essential to the prosecution of war with vigor and
  success except such as interferes with the command
  of the forces and the conduct of campaigns. That
  power and duty belong to the President as

  Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 2, 139 (1866)
  (Chase, C.J., concurring).

Debates relating to legislation regarded by some as
interfering with the President's Commander-in-Chief
authority are frequently framed in terms of legislative
meddling in military operations, but the line between
regulating the Armed Forces and directing campaigns has
proved elusive.

Congress has also used its authority to provide for the
organization and regulation of the Armed Forces to
determine how military personnel are to be organized and
employed. For example, early statutes prescribed in fairly
precise terms how military units were to be formed and

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The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is an
exercise of Congress's power to raise and support armies
(Art. I, § 8, cl. 12); provide and maintain a Navy (Art. I,
§ 8, cl. 13); and to make rules for organizing and
disciplining their members (Art. I, § 8, cl. 14). Under this
authority, Congress enacted the UCMJ (Chapter 47 of Title
10, U.S. Code), which is the code of military criminal laws
applicable to all U.S. military members worldwide.

The President implements the UCMJ through the Manual
for Courts-Martial (MCM), which was initially prescribed
by Executive Order 12473 (April 13, 1984). The MCM
contains the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM), the Military

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