Yesterday, the Constitution won. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay have the right to have their cases heard in US courts, granting them the writ of habeas corpus. Writing for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.”
President Bush was none too happy with the decision, saying, while on a trip in Italy, “First of all it’s a Supreme Court decision. We will abide by the court’s decision. It was a deeply divided court and I strongly agree with those who dissented. The dissent was based upon those serious concerns about U.S. national security. Congress and the administration worked very carefully on … a piece of legislation that set the appropriate procedures in place as to how to deal with the detainees.” He went on to say that his Administration would study the ruling, ” … with this in mind, to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate so we can safely say to the American people: ‘We’re doing everything we can to protect you.'”
I am not surprised at all that Bush is pissed. It’s hard to keep your citizens under the blanket of fear when the courts expose the “enemies,” like Omad Khadr, to the light of day. But it’s a huge victory for America when the Court allows the rest of world to see that our system of checks and balances can, even at the last stop, prevail. The Constitution was bruised and battered along its way through, being hit hard by both the executive and legislative branches. It then was dealt near death blows by the courts along its way to the highest court in the land. But the highest court saved it and proved that our system does, indeed, work. This was a victory not only for the Constitution, but for the framework of our government detailed therein.
Writing for the opposition and speaking from the bench about his opposition, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the decision “… will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” I’m not sure how. These prisoners have been held at Gitmo for years. Were any of them truly guilty, their fellow combatants would not get the message from this ruling that they could get caught, extradited to the US, have a short, easy confinement, get a fair day in a lenient US court, be set free, and return to the battlefield. That’s just not the way it works and not the way it will be seen in the world. The message it does send the world, however, is that we are finally taking our role as human rights leaders seriously.
To read the Opinion and the Dissent for yourself, go here: FindLaw.com.