Thursday, June 12, 2008

Apparently, We Still Have A Constitution

Image credit: National Archives

One branch of government is, just barely, aware that this document exists and has a purpose:

Foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba have constitutional rights to challenge their detention there in United States courts, the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Thursday in a historic decision on the balance between personal liberties and national security.

Justices Rule Terror Suspects Can Appeal in Civilian Courts

Wanna bet I can guess who the four were who were in the minority on this one? Let's see, the new guys, Guido, and Sasquatch, right?

The dissenters were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, generally considered the conservative wing on the high court.

Justices Rule Terror Suspects Can Appeal in Civilian Courts

What do I win? A chance to call a lawyer if I'm ever wrongly imprisoned by a government that was so incompetent that it couldn't convict me of whatever it thought I was guilty of, despite having the advantage of vast resources of money and people:

The Bush administration's original hopes that the camp could become a zone free from the US courts lies in tatters. It is on land under the indefinite control of the US but not part of American territory.

The court was split between liberals and conservatives with the deciding vote coming from the centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion and declared: "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

Supreme Court strikes blow for detainees

I should be glad. For once the Constitution means something to someone in a senior government position. Unfortunately, this was such a no-brainer of a case the vote should have been 9-0:

The ruling on Thursday focused in large part on the centuries old writ of habeas corpus (“you have the body,” in Latin), a means by which prisoners can challenge their incarceration. Noting that the Constitution provides for suspension of the writ only in times of rebellion or invasion, Justice Kennedy called it “an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers.”

Justices Rule Terror Suspects Can Appeal in Civilian Courts

This is the only individual right enshrined in the original Constitution. As Keith Olbermann has observed, among others, it's the right that guarantees that you have all those other rights. If there's anything that should be clear about the black sites fiasco, it's that the government hasn't respected that right for six years.

And as I've observed before, these times aren't nearly as extraordinary as some. In those times, we as a country weren't so eager to trade our freedoms for the illusion of safety.

My guess is that Congress isn't going to grow a spine and enforce this decision, so it may not have much practical effect in the short term. But if the rule of law ever means something to the other two branches of our government again, it's at least clear where the Supreme Court stands.

UPDATE: Via Christy Hardin Smith, the Center for Constitutional Rights had this to say:

In one of the most important human rights cases of the decade, the Supreme Court of the United States held today, in a 5-4 decision, that the men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay have the constitutional right to habeas corpus.

One of the oldest and most basic legal protections, habeas corpus affords the incarcerated the right to stand before a judge and confront the charges presented against him or her. The Center for Constitutional Rights has been sending habeas counsel to represent the prisoners at the base since winning the first Guantánamo case, Rasul v. Bush, in 2004, and applauds today’s decision.

“The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices,” said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. “By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding. With habeas you never would have had these men – so many of whom have been cleared of any wrongdoing – locked up and abused because no court was watching. In those cases, the government will now have to put up or shut up: it will have to show an impartial judge enough evidence to justify detention. This six-year-long nightmare serves as a lesson in how fragile our constitutional protections truly are in the hands of an overzealous executive.”

Landmark Win For Guantanamo Detainees

Since they helped get this case before the Supreme Court, I think they deserve the last word.

UPDATE 2 (Jun 13): They might get the last word, but Watertiger deserves the last picture. It's been a while since I laughed that hard at a political cartoon.

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