Monday, June 28, 2004

The Supreme Court screws things up

The Court today handed down its decisions in three cases regarding the current war on terror: (1) the Padilla case where Jose Padilla claimed the government could not hold him indefinitely as an enemy combatant (he lost, but only technically); (2) the Hamdi case, where the petitioner (a US citizen) claimed he had a right to challenge his enemy combatant status after being captured fighting against US forces in Afghanistan (he won) and (3) the Rasul case, where the Guantanamo Bay detainees sought the right to flood the US courts with habeas corpus petitions for their release (they won).

The Rasul case is the worst loss for the Administration and is a colossal screw-up by the Supreme Court. Here is the Opinion and the dissent. The case turned on distinguishing a valid 50-year old precedent on weak grounds. Here is the key quote from the dissent that sums up both the effect of the holding and its problems:

The reality is this: Today’s opinion, and today’s opinion alone, overrules Eisentrager [the earlier precedent -- TKM]; today’s opinion, and today’s opinion alone, extends the habeas statute, for the first time, to aliens held beyond the sovereign territory of the United States and beyond the territorial jurisdiction of its courts. No reasons are given for this result; no acknowledgment of its consequences made. By spurious reliance on Braden the Court evades explaining why stare decisis can be disregarded, and why Eisentrager was wrong. Normally, we consider the interests of those who have relied on our decisions. Today, the Court springs a trap on the Executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the over-sight of the federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction—and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees.

UPDATE: No one can accuse James Taranto of burying the lede. Here's his formulation:

The U.S. Supreme Court handed Osama bin Laden a victory this morning, ruling that terrorists and Taliban held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to sue in U.S. courts. "Military officials and lawyers for detainees . . . are bracing for an explosion of litigation," says the New York Sun. Our ambulance-chasers might want to reflect on just how apt a metaphor that is, since Islamist terrorists are known to use ambulances as weapons.

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