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Boumediene v. Bush

Citation. Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723, 128 S. Ct. 2229, 171 L. Ed. 2d 41, 76 U.S.L.W. 4406, 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 329 (U.S. June 12, 2008)
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Brief Fact Summary

Boumediene (Plaintiff), a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, filed a petition for habeas corpus.

Synopsis of Rule of Law

Guantanamo Bay is under the complete and total control of the United States and, therefore, the Constitution’s writ of habeas corpus has full effect for detainees held on the base.


The text’s portion of the opinion does not give a full description of Boumediene’s capture and detention.  Boumediene was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.]  In Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), the Court held Guantanamo Bay detainees could file habeas petitions.  In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA) in response to Rasul.  The MCA stripped federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions for enemy combatants.  The D.C. Circuit Court held the writ did not apply to Guantanamo Bay detainees and that Congress could validly remove federal court jurisdiction for habeas petitions from enemy combatants.  Boumediene (Plaintiff) appealed.


Since Guantanamo Bay is under the complete and total control of the United States, does the Constitution’s writ of habeas corpus have full effect for detainees held on the base?


(Kennedy, J.)  Yes.  Guantanamo Bay is under the complete and total control of the United States and, therefore, the Constitution’s writ of habeas corpus has full effect for detainees held on the base.  The Constitution’s Suspension Clause includes the right to habeas corpus unless the right is suspended in times of rebellion or invasion.  The central issue to the case is whether persons detained abroad may file for habeas corpus.  Little precedent exists on the issue.  The government argues that because Cuba retains legal sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay, the detainees are not afforded constitutional protection.  However, there is no dispute the United States has complete jurisdiction and control over the base due to its lease with the Cuban government.  The United States clearly has de facto sovereignty over the territory.  In a series of prior decisions known as the Insular Cases, this Court held that in unincorporated territories of the United States, the federal government had an obligation to provide noncitizens certain fundamental rights specified in the Constitution.  In Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950), this court denied the writ to enemy aliens held at a prison in Germany during the Allies’ postwar occupation of Germany.  While the court may have held that the lack of sovereignty over the prison in Germany was the decisive factor not to grant the writ, that decision did not say the location of the detention was the only factor.  Instead, that decision also applied a functional approach to a determination if the writ should apply.  From that decision, the Court presents three factors that will determine the extent of the Suspension Clause: 1) the citizenship and status of the detainee and the process afforded to the detainee to determine that status; 2) the site of the apprehension and detention; and 3) the practical considerations in granting the writ to the detainee.  The procedures offered to detainees by the Combatant Status Review Tribunal are too limited to afford an adequate alternative to a habeas petition.  No lawyer is afforded and the government’s evidence is offered a presumption of validity.  Regarding the location of the detention, the United States’ interest in Guantanamo Bay is not transient like it was in the Eisentrager matter.  Guantanamo Bay is not abroad, but is within the “constant jurisdiction†of the United States.  Regarding the third factor, the government presents no evidence the military mission will be compromised by allowing detainees to file habeas petitions.  So, the Court holds that the writ of habeas corpus has full effect in Guantanamo Bay.  The MCA does not purport to be a formal suspension of the writ, and the government does not argue that it is.  The MCA is therefore in violation of the Suspension Clause and the Guantanamo Bay detainees have the privilege of filing habeas corpus petitions.  Reversed.


Scalia, J.)  For the first time in the history of our country, this Court has extended the writ of habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad.  Guantanamo Bay is within the sovereignty of Cuba.  In the Eisentrager case, this court held clearly that the writ is not available for enemy combatants who were never held within the territory of the United States.  That decision is dispositive here.  The majority’s extrapolation of a so-called functional test from Eisentrager is a pure misreading of the case.  The decisive factor in that case, as it should be here, was that the detainees were not held on U.S. soil.  Also, the majority’s statement that it is this Court’s duty to say what the law is forgets the fact that this Court is one of limited jurisdiction.  Congress has spoken clearly on the issue.  Unfortunately, this Court, the least qualified branch of government, now has the responsibility of determining how enemy combatants shall be handled.


At the end of the majority opinion, note that the Court states the MCA did not claim to be a suspension of the writ of habeas on the grounds the nation was in a time of rebellion or invasion.  Instead, Congress only removed a class of cases from federal jurisdiction.  If Congress sought to actually suspend the writ, it would have to do so expressly which would make the judicial analysis completely different.  However, since that did not happen, the only question was whether the MCA conflicted with the Suspension Clause.  A majority of five justices held that it did.

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