By a 5-4 vote, the high court overturned a ruling that upheld a law President Bush pushed through Congress in 2006 that took away the habeas corpus rights of the terrorism suspects to seek full judicial review of their detention.
In its third rebuke of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners, the court ruled that the government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”
Kennedy said that Congress had failed to create an adequate alternative for the prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Cuba to contest their detention and that the system the administration has put in place to classify them as enemy combatants and review those decisions also is inadequate.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined Kennedy to form the majority.
The 2006 law allowed for a limited review by a U.S. appeals court in Washington of the military’s designation of the prisoners as an “enemy combatant,” but took away their right to a hearing before a U.S. district court judge to challenge their confinement.
In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.”
Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also dissented.
Scalia said the nation is “at war with radical Islamists” and that the court’s decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”
The court has ruled twice previously that people held at Guantanamo without charges can go into civilian courts to ask that the government justify their continued detention. Each time, the administration and Congress, then controlled by Republicans, changed the law to try to close the courthouse doors to the detainees.
It was not immediately clear whether this ruling would lead to prompt hearings for the roughly 270 men remaining at the island prison, some of whom have been held more than six years.