Massachusetts in the Federal Courts: The Constitutionality of the Vietnam War

One of the most singular pieces of legislation in American constitutional history passed both houses of the Massachusetts legislature on April 1st, 1970, and was signed into law on the following day by Governor Francis W. Sargent. It provides that, except for an emergency, no inhabitant of Massachusetts inducted into or serving in the armed forces “shall be required to serve” abroad in an armed hostility that has not been declared a war by Congress under Article 1, Section 8, clause 11 of the United States Constitution. The bill further directs the state’s attorney general to bring a suit testing the legality of the war in the Supreme Court as a matter of original jurisdiction. The Massachusetts legislature, in passing the bill, created a conflict between state law and national policy. It, thereby, hoped to place before the Supreme Court the question of the bill’s constitutionality, and, derivatively, the constitutionality of the Vietnam War. The bill asserts the legislators’ belief that both the state of Massachusetts and its citizens are denied their constitutional rights when the President of this country forces those citizens to fight in an undeclared, and thereby unconstitutional, war.