Monday, June 28, 2004

Big day at SCOTUS
The Supreme Court of the United States issued several very important decisions today. Probably most importantly, the court ruled in Rumsfeld v. Padilla and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld v. Padilla concerns Jose Padilla, the supposed "dirty bomber" from Chicago. The Supreme Court dodged this decision by ruling that Padilla challenged his imprisonment improperly. He now needs to refile his lawsuit. However, in dissenting, Justice Stevens (joined by Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer) had this to say:

At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society. Even more important than the method of selecting the people's rulers and their successors is the character of the constraints imposed on the Executive by the rule of law. Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber. Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process.

Executive detention of subversive citizens, like detention of enemy soldiers to keep them off the battlefield, may sometimes be justified to prevent persons from launching or becoming missiles of destruction. It may not, however, be justified by the naked interest in using unlawful procedures to extract information. Incommunicado detention for months on end is such a procedure. Whether the information so procured is more or less reliable than that acquired by more extreme forms of torture is of no consequence. For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the court ruled that Yaser Esam Hamdi is entitled to challenge his detention. Hamdi is an American citizen who was captured in Afghanistan. Hamdi's father argues he was an inexperienced relief worker, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The government argues he was fighting for the Taliban. Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, said,

Striking the proper constitutional balance here is of great importance to the Nation during this period of on-going combat. But it is equally vital that our calculus not give short shrift to the values that this country holds dear or to the privilege that is American citizenship. It is dur-ing our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.

We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.

Justice Scalia dissented from the majority opinion, but agreed that Hamdi had the right to challenge his imprisonment. Scalia argued that Hamdi, as an American citizen, has the right to challenge his imprisonment with a writ of Habeas Corpus. Scalia believes that Americans charged with waging war against the United States are properly charged with treason in Federal court. Nothing in the Constitution or Federal law gives the President the right to detain US Citizens without charges indefinitely. Scalia stated,

Many think it not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty give way to security in times of national crisis—that, at the extremes of military exigency, inter arma silent leges. Whatever the general merits of the view that war silences law or modulates its voice, that view has no place in the interpretation and application of a Constitution designed precisely to confront war and, in a manner that accords with democratic principles, to accommodate it.

These decisions should send a strong message to President Bush. When Justice Scalia is a sitting Republican President's strongest critic, you know you're in trouble.

Links courtesy of SCOTUSBlog.



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