Justices Weigh Courts' Role in Detainee Cases
Professor and former Dean Kathleen M. Sullivan, who directs the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, spoke to Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's pivotal role in the consolidated Guantanamo case before Court, Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States.
When the Supreme Court hears arguments today about the rights of suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the role of the courts in the fight against terrorism will be as much an issue as the fate of the prisoners.
The president and Congress have already made their opinions clear: The courts may not "hear or consider" challenges from foreigners held as enemy combatants at the U.S. facility in Cuba.
But in what some scholars say is a critical separation-of-powers case, the nine justices will have the final word on whether such a court-stripping prohibition is constitutional, and on how deferential the judicial branch should be in the prosecution of a war unlike any the country has ever faced.
Two cases, Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, have been consolidated into one and brought on behalf of 37 foreigners who remain among the approximately 300 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. All were captured on foreign soil and have been designated enemy combatants. They proclaim their innocence and for years have asked federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus, the ancient right allowing prisoners to challenge their detentions.
Four conservative legal organizations support the Bush administration, urging the court not to use what the Washington Legal Foundation calls its "raw power" to overturn the work of Congress and the president.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who was the deciding vote last year in the court's most controversial cases, appears to be in the spotlight again; Kathleen M. Sullivan, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, jokingly referred to the carefully tailored briefs in the case as "love letters to Justice Kennedy."
Kennedy is believed to have provided the key fifth vote required for the court to consider the latest detainee case. In his concurring opinion in the 2004 Rasul, he acknowledged the difficulty the court faces in times of war.