Supreme Court Overturns Key Parts of Bush Detention Policy, Affirms Rule of Law and Courts’ Role as Check on Exec Power


Contact: Nathan Richter or Peter Montgomery at People For the American Way Foundation

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Court Rejects Executive Branch Authority to Strip Citizens of Constitutional Protections and to Deny Access to Court for Guantanamo Detainees

Today the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Bush Administration’s assertions that it has the right to indefinitely detain American citizens it deems “enemy combatants” without meaningful due process and that individuals incarcerated in the American military installation in Guantanamo have no access to U.S. Courts. The cases ruled on today were a critical test of the federal courts’ role in upholding the constitutional rights of individual citizens and the rule of law against the powers of the President and the executive branch.

“This is an important victory for the Constitution and our system of checks and balances,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “It should be unthinkable that Americans can be stripped of their constitutional rights by the stroke of a pen, without any effective way to win them back. It should be unthinkable that treatment of detainees on U.S. military installations overseas would be completely out of the realm of judicial review. That is the kind of unchecked power that this administration was asserting. Rulings that went the other way would have left Americans vulnerable to devastating abuses of power. We have seen how dangerous power without accountability can be.”

The justices heard the cases of two American citizens labeled “enemy combatants” by the U.S. government: Yasir Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla. Neither defendant has been charged with a crime and both were only given brief access to legal counsel, although the Administration continued to argue they have no right to a lawyer. The two men are being held by the government indefinitely. The Court ruled that Hamdi can be detained, but must be accorded due process, and ruled that Padilla must refile his case in South Carolina, where he is detained. The Court ruled 6-3 that federal courts have jurisdiction in the Guantanamo case. People For the American Way Foundation filed amicus curiae briefs in the Guantanamo and Padilla cases.

“The Administration’s breathtaking assertion of power over constitutional rights has finally been stopped,” said Elliot Mincberg, Legal Director for PFAWF. “Guilt and innocence were not the issues. What was in question was whether these people would be afforded fair process. Today’s decisions should help ensure that this will happen. Recent revelations about this Administration’s detention practices underscore the importance of subjecting their policies to the effective scrutiny of the courts.”