The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the appeal of Jose
Padilla, a U.S. citizen held in a military jail for more than three
years as an "enemy combatant." The Court, however, declined to dismiss
the case as moot, as the Bush Administration had urged. Only three
Justices voted to hear the case, according to the order and
accompanying opinions. The case was Padilla v. Hanft (05-533).
The decision was a victory for the Bush Administration in one
significant sense: by not finding the case to be moot, the Court leaves
intact a sweeping Fourth Circuit Court decision upholding the
president's wartime power to seize an American inside the U.S. and
detain him or her as a terrorist enemy, without charges and -- for an
extended period -- without a lawyer. The Court, of course, took no
position on whether that was the right result, since it denied review.
The Second Circuit Court, at an earlier stage of Padilla's own case,
had ruled just the opposite of the Fourth Circuit, denying the
president's power to seize him in the U.S. and hold him. That ruling,
though, no longer stands as a precedent, since the Supreme Court
earlier shifted Padilla's case from the Second to the Fourth Circuit.
I don't even pretend to understand all the procedural stuff, but I find it amazing that the effective suspension of habeas corpus, particularly when the "war" and "enemy" that is used as its justification is so amorphous and open-ended, isn't something the Supreme Court would like to sink its teeth into.
Apparently, the Justices were reluctant to address the case since it has now been made "hypothetical" by the transfer of status of Padilla from enemy combatant held incommunicado indefinitely to a more mainstream justice track. However, this transfer occurred, as the appeals court pointed out angrily, in a transparent effort by the Bush administration to avoid judicial review of indefinite detentions. Which raises the possibility that the administration could hold hundreds of people in such detention, systematically changing the status of any individual whose case comes for review, thereby avoiding review of the program in total. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "Nothing prevents the Executive from returning to the road it earlier constructed and defended."
One wonders by this logic if the segregationist south could have indefinitely postponed Supreme Court review via Brown vs. Board of Education just by letting individuals like Linda Brown individually into white schools whenever their cases got to the Supreme Court.
And still I ask, as I did here, where the hell is Congress? I am sorry the Supreme Court failed to review this but the Constitution created this group called the legislative branch that is supposed to have the power to change the law. If law is unclear here, they could make it clear.