Supreme Court Rejects Enemy Combatant Appeal

High Court Rejects Enemy Combatant Appeal (WaPo)

The Supreme Court refused Monday to be drawn into a dispute over President Bush’s power to detain American terror suspects and deny them traditional legal rights. It would have been unusual for the court to take the case of “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla now, because a federal appeals court has not yet ruled on the issue. Arguments are scheduled for July 19 at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

A year ago, the court ruled the Bush administration was out of line by locking up foreign terrorist suspects at the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without access to lawyers and courts. But justices declined to address a separate issue: whether American citizens arrested on U.S. soil can be designated “enemy combatants” and held without trial.

Padilla has been in custody since 2002 when he was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan. The government views him as a militant who planned attacks on the United States, including with a dirty bomb radiological device, and has said he received weapons and explosives training from members of al-Qaida. A federal judge sided with Padilla and ruled that an endorsement of indefinite detentions would be a “betrayal of this nation’s commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties.”

Solicitor General Paul Clement, the Bush administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, said the lower court ruling “marks a substantial judicial intrusion into the core presidential function of determining how best to ensure the nation’s security.” Padilla’s lawyers had wanted to jump over the appeals court and have the Supreme Court intervene. “Delay increases the chance that Padilla could be faced with an unconstitutionally coerced choice _ for example, whether to plead guilty to a crime or to give up other rights in order to avoid further months of detention as an enemy combatant,” his lawyers told justices in a filing.

While I’m inclined to agree with the district judge in this, it would have been a circumvention of the process for the Supreme Court to intervene in the case before giving the 4th Circuit a chance to hear the case and allow it to thus ripen. Of course, the Supremes have punted on this case before, indicating they are not at all eager to issue a ruling.

I’ve written on the Padilla case in detail before so will just refer you to these related entries in the archive:

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.