As we have blogged about several times before, The Supreme Court has been considering the case of Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld for most of this year. Today the court handed down a 5-3 decision (Chief Justice Roberts had to recuse himself) in favor of Hamdan. It was also a victory for his two lawyers, Indian American attorney Neal Katyal, and Cmdr. Charles Swift. It has been the most awaited decision of the year.
The Supreme Court today delivered a sweeping rebuke to the Bush administration, ruling that the military tribunals it created to try terror suspects violate both American military law and the Geneva Convention.
In a 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba.
And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges. [Link]
p>The Court split along idealogical lines and Roberts had to recuse himself because The Court had overturned his ruling on this case when he was a still a lower court judge. Thomas hasn’t been this unhappy since the Coke incident:
Justice Thomas took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 15 years on the court. He said that the ruling would “sorely hamper the president’s ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy…” [Link]
p>Hamdan’s other attorney, a JAG officer, issued a statement after the ruling:
Cmdr. Charles Swift, the Navy lawyer assigned by the military to represent Mr. Hamdan, said at a televised news conference held outside the Supreme Court that the logical next step would be for Mr. Hamdan to be tried either by a traditional military court martial, as provided for under the Geneva Convention, or by a federal court.
He called today’s ruling “a return to our fundamental values.”
“That return marks a high-water point,” Commander Swift said. “It shows that we can’t be scared out of who [we] are, and that’s a victory, folks…” [Link]
p> Justice Kennedy gets to the heart of the matter:
“Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order,” Kennedy wrote in his separate opinion. “Concentration of power (in the executive branch) puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the Constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid…” [Link]
p>I love it when checks and balances see some action.
p>Of course, don’t get your hopes up too high just yet. The Court said that if Bush wants the powers he is claiming then he needs to go to Congress to get permission for them. No sooner had SCOTUS released its decision than some Senator began calling for new legislation, according to Bush. In an election year brushing aside the Constitution and the rule of law is okay if it plays to the home crowd:
As I say, we take the findings seriously. And, again, as I understand it — now please don’t hold me to this — that there is a way forward with military tribunals in working with the United States Congress; as I understand certain senators have already been out expressing their desire to what the Supreme Court found, and we will work with the Congress. I want to find a way forward. [Link]
p>Look for Neal Katyal to be all over the news this next week. I am looking forward to seeing him interviewed on this. And let’s not forget about Hamdan. This may be a legal victory for him but his fundamental situation remains unchanged. He is locked up and the key is missing, just no longer thrown away.