Breaking News

New detainee case granted

UPDATE 1:30 p.m.  The Justice Department, in response to the Court’s order granting review of the detainee case, issued this statement.


The Supreme Court, probably complicating President Obama’s plans to make new policy on detainees, agreed on Tuesday to rule on the power of federal judges to order prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The specific issue in Kiyemba, et al. v. Obama, et al. (08-1234) is whether judges may require the release of Guantanamo prisoners to live in the U.S. itself, but the case has broader implications for all issues surrounding release or transfer of detainees. 

The case — the first on a war-on-terrorism question to be heard by the Court since the new President took office — will require the Justices to explain further (and maybe try to reconcile) two rulings they had issued on the same day in June 2008: Boumediene v. Bush, establishing a constitutional right for Guantanamo detainees to challenge their continued imprisonment, and Munaf v . Geren, limiting habeas rights for individuals held by the U.S. military but facing criminal charges in another country.  The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, has relied heavily upon the Munaf decision in arguing that federal judges do not have the authority to control the release or transfer of detainees.  Once such a prisoner has had a chance to pursue a habeas claim, the government has contended, that is all that the Boumediene decision requires.

This was one of two cases the Court added to its docket for decision this Term.

The other new grant involves a pair of cases, joined for argument, testing whether federal law allows cargo carriers and their shipping customers to agree on the terms of transport under a single document (“bill of lading”) applying to all legs of a journey — sea and land, boat and railroad, international and domestic.  The consolidated cases are Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha v. Regal-Beloit (08-1553) and Union Pacific Railroad v. Regal-Beloit (08-1554).

Both of the newly granted cases are likely to be heard in February or March.

Among other actions Tuesday, two Justices filed a strong dissent as the Court refused to hear a new case seeking to test the authority of police to stop a vehicle when they get an anonymous tip that an individual is driving while drunk, but the tip has not been backed up by the officers’ own observations.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the Court should have granted review of Virginia v. Harris (08-1385).  “The police should have every legitimate tool at their disposal for getting drunk drivers off the road,” Roberts wrote. The Court should have addressed, he said, whether police could stop a possibly drunk driver based on a tip they have not verified.  If that limitation on police is what the Constitution requires, the dissent argued, “the dangerous consequences of this rule are unavoidable…The effect of the rule below will be to grant drunk drivers ‘one free swerve’ before they can legally be pulled over by police.”  The Court’s order and the dissent can be found here.

The Court issued one summary ruling (found here), requiring the Seventh Circuit Court to allow a federal judge to rule on several challenges to the death sentence of an Indiana man, Joseph Corcoran, convicted of four counts of murder.  The Circuit Court had allowed Indiana to reinstate the death sentence for Corcoran even though no court had yet ruled on challenges other than the one that the Circuit Court explicitly rejected.  This was an error, the Justices said Tuesday in their unsigned opinion in Corcoran v. Levenhagen (08-10945). There were no noted dissents.

Among the cases denied review Tuesday was Reust v. Alaska (09-195), an attempt to test the constitutionality of a state law that requires that half of the money awarded in a punitive damages verdict in a civil lawsuit must be paid to the state treasury.  The case sought to challenge an Alaska law to that effect; the petition was filed by an Alaska man who had won such a verdict in an employment dispute with an Alaska oil company.

The Justices also refused to hear a plea by the parents of a teenager shot dead by terrorists as the youth stood at a bus stop hear a Jewish settlement outside of Jerusalem in 1996. The parents of David Boim raised the question whether a 1994 law allowing lawsuits for damages for death caused by terrorists abroad applied to those who aided in the terrorist acts, but did not themselves cause the harm.  The Boims’ lawsuit was aimed at a former U.S. leader of the Hamas organization, designated by U.S. officials as a terrorist group.  The case was Boim v. Salah (08-1441).