Friday, June 13, 2008

Supreme Court's Habeas Case - "Three Strikes and You're Out" for Bush

Yesterday, for the third time in four years, the Supreme Court rebuffed the Bush Administration's handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay (a strategy which has amounted, basically, to denying detainees the normal protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution), stating, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

The majority opinion in this case, Boumediene v. Bush, written by Anthony Kennedy, asserts, "Security subsists, [in addition to use of a 'sophisticated intelligence apparatus and the ability of our armed forces to act and to interdict'], in fidelity to freedom's first principles. Chief among these are freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers. It is from these principles that the judicial authority to consider petitions for habeas corpus relief [ie, a person's right to go to federal court to demand that the government either justify their detention or set them free] derives.

"Our opinion does not undermine the Executive's powers as commander in chief. On the contrary, the exercise of those powers is vindicated, not eroded, when confirmed by the Judicial Branch.

"Within the Constitution's separation-of-powers structure, few exercises of judicial power are as legitimate or as necessary as the responsibility to hear challenges to the authority of the Executive to imprison a person.

"Some of these petitioners have been in custody for six years with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention. Their access to the writ [of habeas corpus] is a necessity to determine the lawfulness of their status, even if, in the end, they do not obtain the relief they seek...." (emphasis mine).

Good stuff - kudos to the Court, and Long Live the Constitution and the principles of Freedom and Liberty for which it stands.

The scary thing about the case, though, is that it was decided just 5-4. Who are these people who would dissent from the right of people to ask why the government is detaining them - some for as long as six years without due process?? It's one thing when justices disagree on more mundane things, but when we're talking about the most fundamental principles underpinning our entire Nation - i.e., Freedom, Liberty, Due Process of Law – one really has to wonder.

All the more reason it’s imperative that Barack Obama is elected president – with such a razor-thin margin on the Supreme Court, America cannot afford a president who would nominate another justice like those in the dissent here (Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas). This Court already contains, by one measure published in U.S. News, four of the five most conservative justices to sit on the Supreme Court since 1937.

With a President John McCain, we are in danger of losing the most cherished principles of Liberty that we’ve held dear since the Nation’s founding (McCain “expressed concern” about the Court’s opinion in Boumediene; and has stated in the past he would use John Roberts and Joseph Alito as models were he to nominate a Justice.)

By contrast, a President Barack Obama would try to nominate a Justice who supports the majority opinion. Responding to yesterday’s decision, Obama stated, “[The decision is] a rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo…. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.”

One final note: Justice Antonin Scalia's hypocricy was exposed yet again in his dissent, with his claim that the decision was based not on principle, "but rather an inflated notion of judicial supremacy." Next time Scalia writes or signs on again to an opinion striking down, for example, a state law of the sort passed by California in Raich v. California (where the California legislature had acted well within its authority in giving state citizens even greater liberty than the minimum required in the federal Constitution when they passed a law allowing medical use of marijuana), one must demand of him, "What about 'inflated notions of judicial supremacy' now??"

Contrary to the claims in Scalia's cramped sophistry, the framers’ true vision was of an expansive individual Liberty vis-à-vis a controlling Government.