Will SCOTUS Stop Congress’ Power Grab?
On Thursday, the Supreme Court will meet to decide, among other things, whether to take up the case of Kiyemba v. Obama, in which the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled that federal courts do not have the power to order any Guantanamo detainees released into the United States.
As Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog noted earlier this week, the appeal by lawyers for 13 Chinese Muslim Uighur prisoners still held at Guantanamo Bay years after being cleared for release, would test the scope of the court’s ruling in the landmark case of Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo detainees have a right to challenge their indefinite imprisonment.
The real question is: Does the right to habeas corpus have any meaning if the courts can’t order the prisoners released?
Meanwhile, as Denniston also points out, Congress has already taken significant measures to take that power over Gitmo detainees into its own hands. The new defense budget sent to President Obama last week specifically bars any spending towards the release of any Guantanamo prisoners into the United States. It also restricts the president’s ability to release prisoners to any other country and he must send Congress a secret report on his plans 15 days before transfer.
The effect of these budgetary constraints on the president is, writes SCOTUSblog, “to restrict in major ways the President’s use of his powers under Article II” and also to restrict the power of the federal courts – the power at issue in Kiyemba. It could even control what happens to the rest of the Uighurs involved in that case. (Four, as we know, were recently transferred to Bermuda.)
The Obama administration is expected to notify the Supreme Court before Thursday that it will sign the new spending bill, “perhaps to reinforce its earlier argument that the Court should deny review” of Kiyemba, speculates SCOTUSblog.
The odd thing is, while Kiyemba left complete power over the detainees to the president — which is why he doesn’t want the Supreme Court to consider reversing it — the spending bill hands that power to Congress.
If the Supreme Court does agree to hear and decide the *Kiyemba *case, it could reverse the decision and confirm that judges have the authority to order prisoners released, thereby affirming the role of the federal courts. But if it denies review and lets the decision stand, the effect, oddly, may be to hand to Congress virtually unlimited authority over the fate of the more than 200 remaining Guantanamo prisoners.