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SCOTUS Conservatives in Anonymous Disarray

I expressed skepticism about the part of Jan Crawford’s story confirming John Roberts flipped his vote on ObamaCare that claimed Roberts had no role in writing the dissent.

Finally, there is Crawford’s not entirely convincing explanation for the relics in the dissent that seem to suggest Roberts had a hand in crafting the dissent, too.

The two sources say suggestions that parts of the dissent were originally Roberts’ actual majority decision for the Court are inaccurate, and that the dissent was a true joint effort.

The fact that the joint dissent doesn’t mention Roberts’ majority was not a sign of sloppiness, the sources said, but instead was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him.

If true, those relics, which violate normal protocol for referring to other opinions, reflect a very big affront to Roberts’ governing opinion.

Salon now has a single anonymous source disputing Crawford’s two anonymous sources on this point.

Crawford’s sources insist on the claim that the joint dissent was authored specifically in response to Roberts’ majority opinion, without any participation from him at any point in the drafting process that created it. It would, after all, be fairly preposterous for the four dissenters to jointly “author” an opinion that was in large part written originally by the author of the majority opinion to which the joint dissenters were now so flamboyantly objecting.

Yet that, I am told by a source within the court with direct knowledge of the drafting process, is exactly what happened. My source insists that “most of the material in the first three quarters of the joint dissent was drafted in Chief Justice Roberts’ chambers in April and May.” Only the last portion of what eventually became the joint dissent was drafted without any participation by the chief justice.

[snip]

Roberts’ chamber did much of the drafting of the [first 46 pages of the dissent, which don’t mention Roberts’ opinion], and none of the [last 19 pages, which do mention it]. In short, it appears Chief Justice Roberts ended up in large part authoring both the majority opinion and the dissent in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

Set aside the fact we’ve got a anonymous leak war going on, with neither side inherently garnering credibility. Set aside what Salon’s report, if correct, would suggest about Roberts.

I want to focus on what it means that comity in the court has broken down in this way. If Crawford’s report comes, as many suspected, from the conservative justices themselves, it would suggest they leaked a transparently illogical cover story (in that it didn’t explain the relics that made everyone suspicious about the dissent in the first place). They not only broke SCOTUS protocol about leaks, but did so and, reportedly, lied in doing so.

Then you’ve got a quick response from someone–could this be a Roberts clerk? one of the other conservatives?–calling out that purported lie.

To what end? To shift the emphasis on Roberts’ fickleness? To try to tone down the confrontational claims at the heart of the Crawford piece? And if another of the conservatives is behind the Salon report, then how do the original leakers feel about the story? What are the political objectives of each side of this anonymous leak war?

And all this is just what we can see through the screen of anonymity. The rancor this expresses must be worse in person.

Even if it’s all anonymous, I gotta say, I’m glad this leak fest has revealed the conservative justices in all their bitchy glory.

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The John Roberts-Anthony Kennedy Smackdown

There are several fascinating details in Jan Crawford’s confirmation that John Roberts did, indeed, flip his vote on ObamaCare.

Most interesting is Crawford’s description of the desperate efforts on the part of Roberts and Anthony Kennedy to persuade the other to flip their vote.

Roberts then withstood a month-long, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position, the sources said. Ironically, Justice Anthony Kennedy – believed by many conservatives to be the justice most likely to defect and vote for the law – led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to the fold.

“He was relentless,” one source said of Kennedy’s efforts. “He was very engaged in this.”

But this time, Roberts held firm. And so the conservatives handed him their own message which, as one justice put it, essentially translated into, “You’re on your own.”

I’m also fascinated by Crawford’s oblique description of why this leaked from the normally tight-lipped Court.

The justices are notoriously close-lipped, and their law clerks must agree to keep matters completely confidential.

But in this closely-watched case, word of Roberts’ unusual shift has spread widely within the Court, and is known among law clerks, chambers’ aides and secretaries. It also has stirred the ire of the conservative justices, who believed Roberts was standing with them.

Note, too, that Crawford uses the same word Ramesh Ponnuru used–“wobbly”–to describe Roberts’ position, suggesting he may have had the same sources she did (and the word seems to come from a Justice himself).

It was around this time [in May] that it also became clear to the conservative justices that Roberts was, as one put it, “wobbly,” the sources said.

Finally, there is Crawford’s not entirely convincing explanation for the relics in the dissent that seem to suggest Roberts had a hand in crafting the dissent, too.

The two sources say suggestions that parts of the dissent were originally Roberts’ actual majority decision for the Court are inaccurate, and that the dissent was a true joint effort.

The fact that the joint dissent doesn’t mention Roberts’ majority was not a sign of sloppiness, the sources said, but instead was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him.

If true, those relics, which violate normal protocol for referring to other opinions, reflect a very big affront to Roberts’ governing opinion.

There’s a lot in Crawford’s story that seems to treat the conservative leakers with too much credibility–not about the law, but about the pissing contest that has ensued. In any case, the very fact that it took just a few days to make it into a story add to the intra-party sniping.

John Roberts Fails to Dictate Another Presidential Outcome, John Yoo Cries

In this post, I suggested the reason Republicans are so angry that John Roberts apparently flipped his vote (note, Barton Gellman reminded today that Ramesh Ponnuru said at Princeton reunion this year that Roberts had flipped before June 1) because they expected the conservative Justices to influence this year’s election.

Funny. In his rant declaring John Roberts the next David Souter, John Yoo has this to say:

Given the advancing age of several of the justices, an Obama second term may see the appointment of up to three new Supreme Court members. A new, solidified liberal majority will easily discard Sebelius’s limits on the Commerce Clause and expand the taxing power even further. After the Hughes court switch, FDR replaced retiring Justices with a pro-New Deal majority, and the court upheld any and all expansions of federal power over the economy and society. The court did not overturn a piece of legislation under the Commerce Clause for 60 years.

Mind you, he doesn’t rule out a Republican (he doesn’t name Mitt directly) getting elected. But he does see this in terms of the election, it seems.

But that’s not the most interesting passage in Yoo’s rant. This was:

Justice Roberts too may have sacrificed the Constitution’s last remaining limits on federal power for very little—a little peace and quiet from attacks during a presidential election year.

The … last … remaining … limits … on … Federal … power.

Yep. John Yoo said that.

Chief Justice Roberts, Flipped Votes, and the Naked Partisans

Yesterday Barack Obama discovered the one high-rankng Republican in the country who would help him raise taxes: John Roberts.

While the political (how will yesterday’s ruling affect both the Presidential and lower ticket races in November) and pragmatic (what red states will turn down tons of Federal money to provide health care for their poor) consequences of yesterday’s decision are still playing out, I’m quite interested in the Kremlinology over Roberts’ vote.

Because the unsigned dissent on the mandate refers to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as itself the dissent–and for a slew more reasons–a number of people think that Roberts originally joined the conservatives, but then flipped at a late moment. (See here and here for a discussion of the evidence supporting that argument, see here for an alternative explanation.)

Then there are questions about why Roberts voted, for the first time, with just the liberal block, his first swing vote on one of the highest profile cases of his tenure. Was it to save the respectability of the Court? To gut the commerce clause? To serve his one consistent constituency, corporations?

The answer to those questions, too, are still playing out.

I can’t help but see this in another context. This decision was the last opportunity for SCOTUS to help defeat Barack Obama. They helped mightily with Citizens United and again with their rejection of the Montana campaign finance case. The Court came close to helping on voting rights and redistricting. The Republicans in the Roberts court has done a lot to make sure Obama doesn’t get to pick anymore of their future colleagues.

But yesterday’s decision had a big impact on the the course of this year’s election. Had the Administration lost, I do think they hypothetically could have used the loss as a rallying point, though in practice they have never shown the ability to win this political argument or even try in concerted fashion, so the more likely outcome would have been a setback at the polls. I do think given Mitt’s embrace of the dissent–rejecting insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, among other things–Democrats ought to be able to spin his opposition to great advantage. Yet I also agree with those who argue that neither Obama nor Mitt have an incentive to talk much about healthcare moving forward. Congressional races are another thing altogether, as the GOP will try to run on a promise to overturn ObamaCare.

Alll that said, I’m most struck by the naked partisan face that has emerged in recent days. While the dissent was largely an angry legalistic screed, the decision–to overturn all of ObamaCare–was radical in its intent. Ginsburg’s opinion’s frequent reliance on the Massachusetts example, RomneyCare, was a nice partisan touch. Most all there’s the haunting dissent to the SB 1070 ruling that Scalia read on Monday, using slavery-era law to argue that states could exclude undesirables from their state (to say nothing of Alito’s defense of life in prison for teenagers).

Roberts may be a corporatist, but the other four conservatives are showing far uglier faces of late.

Then there’s this detail. Amanda Terkel noted Jim DeMint saying conservatives had been “teased” into believing SCOTUS would overturn ObamaCare for them, doing as activist judges what even Erick Erickson now accepts must be done by politics.

“Teased”? What does that mean? Was DeMint “teased” with the results before Roberts flipped, if he did? Did DeMint have reason to believe the five conservatives had taken the radical step of overturning all of ObamaCare?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I will say that the dissenters yesterday have clerks and other staffers who, with a half hour’s work, could have hid the most obvious relics of John Roberts’ flip, if that’s what he did. Search and replace: “dissent,” “concurrence.” That is, if indeed Roberts flipped his vote, then it seems likely that the angry Republicans deliberately left evidence that would lead us all to speculate if not conclude he had done so.

SCOTUS doesn’t leak, Jack Goldsmith says, because it doesn’t bring the same political leverage that leaking does for Executive branch employees.

The justices benefit from the reality and mystique of secrecy, and gain nothing from a leak. A justice can frame a case to the public in a written opinion and wins no internal leverage (and likely loses some) from disclosing the disposition of a case prematurely.

[snip]

Emboldened lower level officials become disrespectful of the secrecy system and sometimes disclose classified information to spin an operation in their favor, to settle a bureaucratic score, or to appear important.

Whether or not Jim DeMint learned how the Court voted some time ago, if it’s true Roberts flipped his vote, then it seems likely the other conservatives–the ones serving an even uglier partisan ideology than Roberts’ raw corporatism–believe they benefit from making that known now, after the fact.

They delivered their side of the bargain, the clues in the dissent show. And they seem to want that known.

ObamaCare SCOTUS Reaction: Why Not Find a Way to Make the Benefits Worth the Price?

I was going to let bmaz handle the ObamaCare debate. But then I read this Jonathan Cohn piece–which asks whether SCOTUS’ likely decision to strike down the mandate will delegitimize the court. And I had to respond.

Cohn started his discussion on legitimacy last week with this post. In addition to, as bmaz argues, downplaying the importance of the limiting principle, Cohn describes how a named plaintiff in the case, Steven Hyder, explained his involvement in the case. Cohn focuses rather more on Hyder’s incoherent TeaParty rhetoric…

“It’s a complete intrusion into my business and into my private life,” he told me. “I think it’s one big step towards a socialist society and I’m purely capitalist. I believe in supply-side economics and freedom.”

Than on his more basic description of why he hasn’t bought health insurance…

He said his motive was straightforward. He’s opted not to carry health insurance because he doesn’t think the benefits justify the price, and he doesn’t want the government forcing him to do otherwise.

I’m rather more interested in this “straightforward motive” bit: Hyder says the benefits don’t justify the price.

I have no idea what Hyder’s income is, but remember that for around 16 to 19% of people affected by the mandate, buying health insurance would only limit, but not eliminate, the possibility of medical bankruptcy, without making health care for serious but not life-threatening problems financially accessible. That chunk of people would not be able to afford to use the insurance for anything more than the guaranteed preventative care and catastrophic care. And yet they would be asked to pay up to 8% of their income for this badly inadequate insurance.

Hyder may spout TeaParty rhetoric that makes it easy to dismiss him, but he also points to one of the realities of health insurance in this country: it is very expensive and for many people, its benefits may not immediately justify the cost.

With all that as background, let’s turn to Cohn’s catalog of opinions on whether SCOTUS’ decision will delegitimize the institution (note: Cohn doesn’t say whether he thinks SCOTUS will throw out just the mandate or the whole kit and kaboodle, which seems rather important, but the Administration’s own choices and arguments about severability may be responsible if the latter occurs).

To summarize the arguments Cohn lays out (these are my summaries–apologies for any distortions of the views portrayed):

Cohn: Overruling an act of Congress should erode the Court’s authority.

David Bernstein: The ruling won’t undermine the Court’s legitimacy because those who might object to it–liberal journalists, lawyers, and activists–have too much invested in the Court to make the case.

Scott Lemieux: The ruling won’t undermine the Court’s legitimacy because a significant chunk of elite opinion and a majority of the public would find the decision legitimate. And also, the ruling won’t lead to anything better because the insurance companies, which are the key agent, won’t let anything better arise.

Andrew Koppelman: The ruling will undermine the Court’s legitimacy because it will “force” Obama to spend “millions of dollars worth of television ads trying to persuade the American public that the Republicans on the Court are a bunch of despicable political hacks” and negative advertising works.

Of note, look at the differing emphasis on who has agency to affect the Court’s legitimacy: the liberal commentariat, insurance companies, and Obama.

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SCOTUS and GPS Tracking: US v. Jones and Secret PATRIOT

As I read the transcript of the SCOTUS hearing in the US v. Jones yesterday, I was most interested in what the comments suggest about the government’s secret use of the PATRIOT Act to–presumably–use phone geolocation to track people. (Here’s Dahlia Lithwick, Orrin Kerr, Julian Sanchez, Lyle Denniston, and Kashmir Hill on the hearing itself.)

Mind you, the facts in Jones are totally different from what we think may be happening with Secret PATRIOT (I’ll borrow Julian Sanchez’ speculation on what Secret PATRIOT does for this post). In Jones, a suspected drug dealer had a GPS device placed on his car after the 10-day warrant authorizing the cops to do so had already expired. As such, Jones tests generally whether the government needs an active warrant to track a suspect using GPS.

Whereas with Secret PATRIOT, the government is probably using Section 215 to collect the geolocation data from a large group of people–most of them totally innocent–to learn whom suspected terrorists are hanging around with. Not only does Secret PATRIOT probably use the geolocation of people not suspected of any crime (Section 215 requires only that the data be relevant to an investigation into terrorists, not that the people whose records they collect have any tie to a suspected terrorist), but it collects that information using a device–a cell phone–that people consensually choose to carry. Moreover, whereas in Jones, the government was tracking his car in “public” (though Justice Sotomayor challenges that to a degree), Secret PATRIOT probably tracks the location of people in private space, as well. Another significant difference is that, in Jones, the government is doing the tracking themselves; in Secret PATRIOT they probably get tracking data under the guise of business records from cell phone companies.

Nevertheless, the concerns expressed by the Justices seem to be directly relevant to Secret PATRIOT. After all, Chief Justice Roberts almost immediately highlighted that the government’s argument–that the use of GPS to track cars on public streets was not a search and therefore it did not need probable cause to use it on anyone–meant that the government could also use GPS trackers on the Justices themselves.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You think there would also not be a search if you put a GPS device on all of our cars, monitored our movements for a month? You think you’re entitled to do that under your theory?

MR. DREEBEN: The justices of this Court?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Yes.

(Laughter.)

MR. DREEBEN: Under our theory and under this Court’s cases, the justices of this Court when driving on public roadways have no greater expectation

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So your answer is yes, you could tomorrow decide that you put a GPS device on every one of our cars, follow us for a month; no problem under the Constitution?

[snip]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, then you’re -you’re moving away from your argument. Your argument is, it doesn’t depend how much suspicion you have, it doesn’t depend on how urgent it is. Your argument is you can do it, period. You don’t have to give any reason. It doesn’t have to be limited in any way, right?

MR. DREEBEN: That is correct, Mr. Chief Justice.

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Another Day, Another Person Suing Donald Rumsfeld for Torture

The 7th Circuit has just issued a decision in yet another case where a US citizen (actually, two of them–Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel) are suing Donald Rumsfeld for the torture they suffered at the hands of the military. (h/t scribe) The opinion allows the Bivens lawsuit to go forward.

Vance and Ertel are both American citizens who reported the contractor they worked for in Iraq, Shield Group Security, to the FBI for making payments to Iraqi sheikhs. Following the discovery of a cache of guns owned by Shield, Vance and Ertel were ultimately put in Camp Cropper and tortured. As the opinion describes,

After the plaintiffs were taken to Camp Cropper, they experienced a nightmarish scene in which they were detained incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and subjected to physical and psychological torture for the duration of their imprisonment — Vance for three months and Ertel for six weeks. ¶¶ 2, 20-21, 146-76, 212. They allege that all of the abuse they endured in those weeks was inflicted by Americans, some military officials and some civilian officials. ¶ 21. They allege that the torture they experienced was of the kind “supposedly reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.” ¶ 2. If the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, two young American civilians were trying to do the right thing by becoming whistleblowers to the U.S. government, but found themselves detained in prison and tortured by their own government, without notice to their families and with no sign of when the harsh physical and psychological abuse would end. ¶¶ 1-4, 19, 21, 52- 54, 161.

[snip]

Vance and Ertel were driven to exhaustion; each had a concrete slab for a bed, but guards would wake them if they were ever caught sleeping. ¶¶ 148, 149. Heavy metal and country music was pumped into their cells at “intolerably-loud volumes,” and they were deprived of mental stimulus. ¶¶ 21, 146, 149. The plaintiffs each had only one shirt and a pair of overalls to wear during their confinement. ¶ 152. They were often deprived of food and water and repeatedly deprived of necessary medical care. ¶¶ 151, 153-55.
Beyond the sleep deprivation and the harsh and isolating conditions of their detention, plaintiffs allege, they were physically threatened, abused, and assaulted by the anonymous U.S. officials working as guards. ¶ 157. They allege, for example, that they experienced “hooding” and were “walled,” i.e., slammed into walls while being led blindfolded with towels placed over their heads to interrogation sessions. ¶¶ 21, 157.

The decision, written by Obama appointee David Hamilton, had little patience for Rummy’s defense. It accused Rummy, first of all, of ignoring the detail alleged in the complaint so as to expand the meaning of Iqbal.

The defendants instead argue that plaintiffs have not alleged more than “vague, cursory, and conclusory references to [their] conditions of confinement, without sufficient factual information from which to evaluate their constitutional claim.” This argument, which is more of a pleading argument to extend Iqbal and Twombly than an argument about qualified immunity, is not persuasive. The defendants argue, for example, that while the plaintiffs allege that their cells were extremely cold, they provide no “factual context, no elaboration, no comparisons.” At this stage of the case, we are satisfied with the description of the cells as “extremely cold.” Cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 84 and Forms 10-15 (sample complaints that “illustrate the simplicity and brevity that these rules contemplate”).
The defendants also suggest that the plaintiffs did not detail in their Complaint whether they sought and were denied warmer clothing or blankets. Even if it was not necessary, the plaintiffs actually specified the clothing and bedding that was available to each of them — a single jumpsuit and a thin plastic mat. The defendants also argue that plaintiffs did not specify how long they were deprived of sleep. That level of detail is not required at this stage, but a fair reading of this Complaint indicates that the sleep deprivation tactics were a constant for the duration of their detention, as was the physical and psychological abuse by prison officials.

It dismisses the argument–submitted in a amicus brief by the military–that regular military justice offered Vance and Ertel alternative means of justice.

For three reasons, however, we are not persuaded by the argument that a Bivens remedy should be barred because detainees who are being tortured may submit a complaint about their treatment to the very people who are responsible for torturing them. First, if, as plaintiffs allege here, there was a problem stretching to the very top of the chain of command, it would make little sense to limit their recourse to making complaints within that same chain of command.

Second, the opportunity to complain offers no actual remedy to those in plaintiffs’ position other than possibly to put a stop to the ongoing torture and abuse. A system that might impose discipline or criminal prosecution of the individuals responsible for their treatment does not offer the more familiar remedy of damages.

Third, during oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel asserted that Vance and Ertel in fact did complain about their treatment while detained. At least one of the men had face-to-face conversations with the commander of Camp Cropper, who said there was nothing he could do about their treatment.

And it got really outraged when Rummy tried to claim the war constituted a special factor that should exempt the government from prohibitions on torturing its own citizens.

The defendants are arguing for a truly unprecedented degree of immunity from liability for grave constitutional wrongs committed against U.S. citizens. The defense theory would immunize not only the Secretary of Defense but all personnel who actually carried out orders to torture a civilian U.S. citizen. The theory would immunize every enlisted soldier in the war zone and every officer in between. The defense theory would immunize them from civil liability for deliberate torture and even coldblooded murder of civilian U.S. citizens. The United States courts, and the entire United States government, have never before thought that such immunity is needed for the military to carry out its missions.

[snip]

If we were to accept the defendants’ invitation to recognize the broad and unprecedented immunity they seek, then the judicial branch — which is charged with enforcing constitutional rights — would be leaving our citizens defenseless to serious abuse or worse by another branch of their own government. We recognize that wrongdoers in the military would still be subject to criminal prosecution within the military itself. Relying solely on the military to police its own treatment of civilians, however, would amount to an extraordinary abdication of our government’s checks and balances that preserve Americans’ liberty.

Now, the ruling is significant for a number of reasons. The facts here are very close to the facts in Doe v. Rumsfeld–the DC District case which was just allowed to move forward. In both, US citizens who were civilian employees in Iraq were tortured in Camp Cropper. Both took place after the Detainee Treatment Act. That’s particularly significant, since both cases argue that since Congress didn’t address torture of US civilians under the DTA, it both reinforces the notion there is no other remedy, but also rules out the possibility that Rummy simply couldn’t be expected to know that torturing American citizens was wrong.

The plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Secretary Rumsfeld was responsible for creating policies that governed the treatment of the detainees in Iraq and for not
conforming the treatment of the detainees in Iraq to the Detainee Treatment Act.

In fact, this case goes further, pointing to news reports that after DTA, Rummy rewrote part of the Army Field Manual (Appendix M) to permit torture to continue.

The plaintiffs contend that Secretary Rumsfeld eventually abandoned efforts to classify the Field Manual, but that the “December Field Manual” was in operation during their detention and was not replaced until September 2006, after plaintiffs had been released, when a new field manual (Field Manual 2-22.3) was instituted. ¶ 244; Pl. Br. at 11. The dissent criticizes plaintiffs’ reliance on the newspaper report, but plaintiffs’ case for personal responsibility rests on allegations that are far more extensive. In any event, these are disputes of fact that cannot be resolved by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.

But this ruling–particularly the language about the immunity that a rejection of the Bivens suit would imply–applies in large part to Jose Padilla’s suit against Rummy for almost the same terms (though Padilla wasn’t even seized in a war zone).

This ruling in the 7th Circuit, with another ruling due at some point in Padilla’s 4th and 9th Circuit suits, as well as the DC District Doe case, all raise the chances that SCOTUS will have to answer the question of whether our government can torture US citizens with impunity.

Sure, Justice Roberts and his pals are likely to try to find some way to thread this needle, if not approve such treatment more generally. But it looks increasingly likely they’re going to have to decide the question one way or another.

Search and Replace: Sexually Dangerous Person, Terrorist

Just as a little thought experiment, let’s look how some passages from SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan’s successful argument in U.S. v. Comstock–in which SCOTUS just voted 7-2 to affirm the federal government’s authority to indefinitely detain sex offenders who are mentally ill–appear when we replace the term “sexually dangerous person” with “terrorist.” (See Adam B’s post on the decision for a good overview of the decision.)

KAGAN: The Federal Government has mentally ill, sexually dangerous persons [terrorists] in its custody. It knows that those persons, if released, will commit serious sexual [terrorist] offenses;

[snip]

JUSTICE GINSBURG: But the likelihood is that the person will stay in Federal custody?

GENERAL KAGAN: I think that that’s fair, that the likelihood is that the person will stay in Federal custody until such time as a court finds that the reasons for that custody have lapsed.

[snip]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Right. I understand your argument to be that this power is necessary and proper, given the fact that the person is in Federal custody for some other reason, criminal conviction [enemy combatant designation].

GENERAL KAGAN: That has been the government’s case throughout this litigation, that it is always depended on the fact of Federal custody, on the fact that this person has entered the criminal justice system [been designated an enemy combatant],

[snip]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, why doesn’t the Federal Government’s authority to have custody because of the criminal justice system [enemy combatant designation] end when the criminal justice system is exhausted if he can’t be charged? In other words, when the sentence is done?

GENERAL KAGAN: Because the Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure that release of the people it has in its custody is done responsibly, and is done in such a way —

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Revenge of Article III

We’ve talked about this in threads, but I just wanted to pull out all the bits of Anthony Kennedy’s opinion that really address separation of powers and rule of law, in addition the question of Gitmo and Habeas more directly. Kennedy bases much of his argument on separation of powers on the reminder that since Marbury v. Madison, it has been the Court’s duty–and not that of Congress or the President–to determine what the law is.

Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this [claiming the US had no sovereignty over Gitmo because we ceded it to Cuba then leased it back]. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. Even when the United States acts outside its borders, its powers are not “absolute and unlimited” but are subject “to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution.” Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U. S. 15, 44 (1885). Abstaining from questions involving formal sovereignty and territorial governance is one thing. To hold the political branches have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will is quite another. The former position reflects this Court’s recognition that certain matters requiring political judgments are best left to the political branches. The latter would permit a striking anomaly in our tripartite system of government, leading to a regime in which Congress and the President, not this Court, say “what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803).

Within that context, he describes habeas corpus as a mechanism which has been historically designed to check the power of the political branches.

These concerns have particular bearing upon the Suspension Clause question in the cases now before us, for the writ of habeas corpus is itself an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers. The test for determining the scope of this provision must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.

As such, only the Court can determine the proper boundaries of habeas corpus, not Congress or the President.

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