Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 5-4 decision stating that:
Petitioners have met their burden of establishing that the DTA review process is, on its face, an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus….[T]he Government has not established that the detainees’ access to the statutory review provisions at issue is an adequate substitute for the writ of habeas corpus. MCA §7 thus effects an unconstitutional suspension of the writ.
While some delay in fashioning new procedures is unavoidable, the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody. The detainees in these cases are entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing.
It bears repeating that our opinion does not address the content of the law that governs petitioners’ detention. That is a matter yet to be determined. We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.
The determination by the Court of Appeals that the Suspension Clause and its protections are inapplicable to petitioners was in error. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The cases are remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions that it remand the cases to the District Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
With those words, the Court declared that at least some of the “unlawful combatants” at Guantanamo Bay have every right to a prompt habeas corpus hearing before Federal courts, striking down previous rulings and declaring the policies of the Administration barring habeas corpus unconstitutional and unlawful.
This day was a triumph for the rule of law.
But let’s be clear about what the triumph is here. It is not the specific decision. If the Court had ruled the other way (which it might well have given the 5-4 nature of the decision), that ruling would have been an equal triumph. No, the triumph here is not that these detainees are finally going to get their day in court.
Rather, it is that they have already gotten their day in Court.
A group of detainees: some of whom are almost certainly enemies of the United States and dedicated to our destruction; some of whom are surely vicious killers guilty of murdering, raping, and torturing innocents whose only crime was daring to differ in matters of politics or religion; and many of whom are probably quite justly imprisoned as deadly threats to our nation and her citizens. These same detainees, imprisoned in a secretive military prison and isolated from all normal contact with society, have successfully brought their case before the highest Court in the United States.
These detainees, imprisoned as deadly threats, have had their pleadings heard, considered, and judged as if they were the pleadings of any upstanding citizen of the United States. Their case was made by lawyers, responded to by the United States government, and heard respectfully by federal judges. Men who the government claims would happily butcher the entire Supreme Court received reasoned judgment from that Court.
That their case prevailed may be just or unjust, good or bad. On that men of goodwill can rightly disagree. But that their case was brought before the Supreme Court in the first place, that the Court had both the will and the power to hear it and render a verdict, and that that verdict has power to effect real change, those things must be acclaimed by all those who treasure the rule of law.
As the Court noted in its Opinion:
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….The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.
It is so ordered.