Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008)

Case Name: Boumediene v. Bush
Citation: 553 U.S. 723

Issue: Whether aliens have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus and if Congress acted in violation of the Suspension Clause by seeking to eliminate their right of habeas corpus.

Key Facts: Aliens designated as enemy combatants being detained at Guantanamo Bay. All of these aliens are not citizens of nations that the US is at war with (see AUMF).  While the aliens had pending appeals, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA) which stated, “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider…an application for writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Also, that the District of Columbia Circuit Court shall have “exclusive” jurisdiction to review decisions of the CSRTs.

The Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that this did not apply to cases pending when the DTA was enacted. Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act (MCA) which stated no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any other action against the US relating to any aspect of the detention of an alien  (pending on or after the date of enactment of this Act).

Analysis: If Congress intends to suspend the right, an adequate substitute must offer the prisoner a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate he is held pursuant to an erroneous application or interpretation of relevant law, and the reviewing decision-making must have some ability to correct errors, to assess the sufficiency of the government’s evidence, and to consider relevant exculpating evidence. Furthermore, the DTA failed to provide an adequate alternative to habeas corpus.

Holding: Aliens do have the habeas corpus privilege.

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004)

Case Name: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld
Citation: 542 U.S. 507 (2004)

Issue: What process is constitutionally due to a citizen who disputes his enemy-combatant status?

Key Facts: Citizen designated as an enemy combatant being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. The habeas petition states only that “when seized by the United States Government, Mr. Hamdi resided in Afghanistan.” The Mathews calculus then contemplates a judicious balancing of these concerns, through an analysis of “the risk of an erroneous deprivation” of the private interest if the process were reduced and the “probable value, if any, of additional or substitute safeguards.”

  • “Enemy Combatant” – “part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners” in Afghanistan and who “engaged in an armed conflict against the United States” there.

Petitioner’s argument: Hamdi contends: 18.U.S.C 4001(a) No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.

Respondent’s argument: The Government contends: 4001(a) is satisfied because Hamdi is being detained “pursuant to an Act of Congress” [Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)]. The Court said this was correct. 

Analysis:  “History and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat…We necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances.”

Holding: A citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision maker.

Decision 2: Concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment. Disagreed that his detention is authorized by an Act of Congress (Authorization for Use of Military Force) to satisfy 4001(a). Believed Hamdi should be released.

Scalia’s dissent: It is beyond the Court’s compass to determine whether detention and interrogation, in order to meet the Government’s security needs, are sufficient. Therefore, it is up to Congress and the Executive (elected officials).

Thomas’ dissent: The Federal Government’s war power cannot be balanced by the Court. The detention of Hamdi does not violate the Constitution. In other words, the loss of one man’s liberty is a low cost for national security.

Whitman v. American Trucking Assn., Inc. – 531 U.S. 457 (2001)

Case Name: Whitman v. American Trucking Assn., Inc.
Citation: 531 U.S. 457 (2001)

Issue: Whether a section of the Clean Air Act delegates legislative power to the Administrator of the EPA (a violation of Article 1 of the Constitution).

Key Fact: The Act stated that “at five-year intervals” the EPA Administrator must review the standard and make revisions as may be appropriate.”

Procedural History: The Court of Appeals stated that the statute provided no “intelligible principle” to guide the agency’s exercise of authority. Because it failed to state “how much is too much”, the Court of Appeals stated that EPA’s interpretation violated the non-delegation doctrine.

Holding: The scope of discretion that the Act allows is well within the outer limits of the court’s non-delegation precedents. The discretion allows the EPA to adapt to new scientific knowledge regarding pollutants. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals.

Reasoning: A certain degree of discretion is needed in executive agencies.

The scope of discretion that the Act allows is well within the outer limits of the court’s non-delegation precedents. The discretion allows the EPA to adapt to new scientific knowledge regarding pollutants.

Standing and the Justiciability Doctrine

The Justiciability Doctrine is a concept that students must fully understand in order to analyze issues in Constitutional law classes. The purpose of the Justiciability Doctrine is to encourage the separation of powers in our branches of government. The main question under the Justiciability Doctrine is: “What can the federal court hear?” and the answer to this question is not explicitly stated in the Constitution but has been created by the courts.

Article III, Section 2 states that “the judicial Power shall extend to all Cases…[and] to controversies.” The Supreme Court has inferred from this that a federal court will only hear “a case or controversy.” Although this inference may be relatively obvious, it does help accomplish the goal of the separation of powers. For example, the federal court will not do things such as give an advisory opinion to a branch of government because it would not arise out of a case or controversy.

The question of standing is: “Who can take a case to court?” To answer this question, the plaintiff must meet three requirements:

1. An injury in fact

  • The plaintiff has suffered or will immediately suffer an injury. In other words, a plaintiff cannot bring a suit because he fears that sometime in the future he may suffer an injury.

2. Causation

  • The injury alleged is connected to the defendant’s conduct.

3. Redressability

  • That the federal court in which the suit is brought is the likely court to redress the injury. This includes a showing that the federal court has proper jurisdiction for the suit.


Dormant Commerce Clause Analysis

A state violates the Dormant Commerce Clause if it “oversteps” its role in regulating interstate commerce. The first step in analyzing a state regulation under the Dormant Commerce Clause is to determine whether the regulation incidentally burdens interstate commerce or affirmatively discriminates against interstate commerce. An affirmative burden on interstate commerce exists if the regulation “on its face” or “in its practical effect” regulates interstate commerce.

An incidental burden violates the Commerce Clause only if the burdens it imposes on interstate trade are “clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.” If an affirmative burden is found, the state has the burden to demonstrate that the statute “serves a legitimate local purpose” and that this purpose could not be well served by any available nondiscriminatory means. An affirmative burden is analyzed under strict scrutiny.

State laws that affirmatively discriminate against out-of-staters are almost always declared unconstitutional. Such a law will be allowed only if it is proven that the law is necessary and the least restrictive means were used to achieve a non-protectionist purpose. The only case to survive strict scrutiny under the Dormant Commerce Clause is Maine v. Taylor, 477 US 131 (1986).

If a law does not discriminate against out-of-staters, the Court balances its burdens on interstate commerce against its benefits.