Brief Fact Summary.
A court of appeals determined that Hamdi (Petitioner) a US citizen designated an “enemy combatant” could be indefinitely confined and had no right to challenge his designation in federal court.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The Constitution grants citizens held in the United States as an enemy combatant the right to a meaningful opportunity to challenge the factual basis for his detention before an impartial decisionmaker.
Petitioner was an American citizen captured and designated an “enemy combatant” by the United States Government. He was placed into indefinite confinement at Guantanamo Bay. Hamdi filed a federal writ of habeas corpus and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found his detention legally authorized and determined that Petitioner was not entitled to further opportunities to challenge his “enemy combatant” designation. Petitioner petitioned and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Does the Constitution grant an American citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant the due process right to challenge the factual basis for his detention before an impartial decisionmaker?
(O’Connor, J.) Yes. The Constitution grants citizens held in the United States as an enemy combatant the right to a meaningful opportunity to challenge the factual basis for his detention before an impartial decisionmaker. Even in times of war, the country must retain its values and the privileges of citizenship. However, the exigencies of ongoing military conflict do allow, aside from certain fundamental elements, proceedings for enemy combatant citizens to be tailored to avoid extraordinary burdens on the Executive Branch. It may be necessary to rely on hearsay to support the designation as an enemy combatant. Such a hearing could even allow a presumption that the Government’s evidence is true, so long as the presumption is rebuttable and a fair opportunity for rebuttal is allowed and still be constitutionally sound. Both parties agree that individual citizens initially captured on the battlefield are not entitled to their full constitutional rights at that time. This decision acknowledges the military’s authority to prosecute war and grants wide discretion in the exercise of this authority, but also realizes that the courts must exercise their own constitutionally required roles in reviewing and resolving claims such as these. A state of war does not allow the President to act unchecked in the matters of the rights of American citizens. Vacated and remanded.
(Scalia, J.) If the rights of citizens are to be suspended during wartime, then it should be done so by the legislature, not by the courts. The plurality opinion limits the rights of citizens held as enemy combatants within the United States or its territories without action by Congress. The Constitution allows Congress to take such steps, the courts should not be doing so. Petitioner should be released unless criminal proceedings are promptly brought or Congress suspends the writ of habeas corpus.
(Thomas, J.) The executive branch exercised its constitutional powers and, with congressional approval, determined Petitioner to be an enemy combatant who must be detained. Such a detention falls within the war powers of the federal government and cannot be second-guessed by this Court. Petitioner’s challenge should fail and the lower court affirmed.
(Souter, J.) The Government has not shown that the Force Resolution allows for Petitioner’s detention, even if the relevant facts are as the Government claims. If the Government cannot show evidence beyond that found in the record currently, the Non-Detention Act would require that Petitioner be released. The branch of government whose role is to counter threats to the nation cannot be the same branch exclusively asked to strike a balance between defeating the enemy and safeguarding liberty in action taken to defeat that enemy.
In these cases, the Court attempts to balance two competing interests—respect for the separation of powers and the executive branch’s efforts to protect the nation during a time of war, and the constitutional protections due all citizens.