Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Pace of Litigation

My FindLaw column later this week recaps the DC Circuit opinion upholding the Military Commissions Act insofar as it eliminates habeas jurisdiction for enemy aliens outside the U.S. As I'll explain there, it is difficult to justify the assumpton in Judge Randolph's opinion that the constitutionally required scope of habeas is no greater than what it was in 1789. Here I'll just make one quick observation about pace.

The Bush administration first began detaining enemy combatants from the Afghanistan war in late 2001. Unless the latest case is expedited, it won't be heard by the Supreme Court until next Term, meaning a decision as late as June 2008. That will be the third time the U.S. Supreme Court will have heard a case challenging procedures for detaining alleged alien enemy combatants. And if the Court reverses the DC Circuit, that will undoubtedly give rise to further wrangling among Congress, the administration and the courts over what procedures are permissible. A policy of indefinite detention appears to be succeeding through infinite litigation.

9 comments:

egarber said...

I haven't read the whole ruling, but I'm curious about something:

I'm pretty sure the MCA itself doesn't distinguish between territory; it basically eliminates HC rights whenever the government decides an "alien" is an "enemy combatant".

Did the ruling say anything about the reach of the law into the internal U.S.? Or was it purposely narrow to the Gitmo question?

Since it wasn't a Supreme Court ruling, my guess is that the court stayed away from wider dicta.

Michael C. Dorf said...

the mca does not distinguish but the dc circuit opinon does. it's possible to read the case as implying that the MCA is invalid as applied internally.

Sam said...

Professor Dorf, It's an interesting point, but does it matter to the case? The dissent appears to take issue with the statement, but doesn't offer anything since 1789 that would require drawing a line. I can see the relevance in situations (such as it is in Substantive Due Process, the 8th Amendment, etc.) where there has been significant development in the law that the petitioners are clearly better off now than they were at the founding. But here, besides Rasul, there is no modern support for their position, and statements in Eisentrager are damning.

egarber said...

Of course, if "internally" only comes to mean "detained internally", that wouldn't amount to much protection for the individual. After all, it's not difficult to envision the government snagging somebody here, and then shipping them offshore.

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