For Immediate Release: August 27, 2007
WASHINGTON – Human rights First is part of an unusual coalition of public interest and religious groups with widely-ranging ideological views that has filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court in support of two companion cases brought by detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay to challenge their detention in American courts.
The cases, Boumediene v. Bush and al Odah v. U.S., test whether the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006, a pillar of the Administration’s detention policy, validly strips federal courts of jurisdiction over pending habeas corpus petitions filed by foreign citizen detainees held at Guantanamo. The cases are on appeal from a 2-1 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued on February 20, 2007. The Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ original petition for certoriari on April 2, 2007, and, in an unusual move, reversed that decision on June 29, 2007, after the petitioners sought a rehearing.
The co-counsel in the brief are: The Constitution Project, an independent think tank that brings together legal and policy experts from across the political spectrum to promote consensus solutions to pressing constitutional issues; Human Rights First, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a secure and humane world by advancing justice, human dignity and respect for the rule of law; Human Rights Watch, an independent, nongovernmental organization that investigates and reports on violations of fundamental human rights in over 70 countries worldwide; and The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization that specializes in providing legal representation without charge to individuals whose civil liberties are threatened or violated. Fulbright and Jaworski, a leading international law firm with a well-recognized Supreme Court and appellate practice, is serving as counsel.
In addition to the four organizations serving as co-counsel, signatories to the brief are: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Freedom Agenda, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Muslim Public Affairs Council, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Social Workers, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., Open Society Institute, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, People For the American Way Foundation, and Union for Reform Judaism.
The administration has strongly opposed permitting habeas corpus suits by foreigners held as enemy combatants outside the United States. At the administration’s urging, Congress in 2006 passed the MCA, a key feature of which was to strip federal courts of the ability to hear habeas cases filed by Guantánamo detainees.
The coalition’s arguments in support of the right of Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention through habeas corpus focused on the importance of habeas in the U.S. Constitutional system of checks and balances. According to the group, the Constitution’s habeas provision “ensures that neither Congress nor the Executive can create ‘law-free’ zones within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States where the Judiciary cannot independently inquire into the legality of Executive detention . . . Such Kafkaesque regimes may lawfully exist in other countries where executive power is absolute. But the Framers of our Constitution expressly ensured that habeas corpus would be available to permit the Judiciary to check absolute Executive power.”