Supreme Court Could Confront Constitutionality of Spending Bill
Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog points out that the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case of 17 Chinese Muslim Uighur detainees who a judge ordered released into the United States will likely also force the Justices to consider the constitutionality of two bills President Obama signed yesterday.
The issue in Kiyemba v. Obama is whether the courts have the power to order an “alien” (non-U.S. resident) detainee held at Guantanamo Bay released into the United States, after determining the government has no grounds to keep holding him. But what if Congress then makes it impossible for the government to release the prisoner in the United States by withholding all necessary funding? Two separate bills signed yesterday — specifically, Sec. 1041 of the National Defense Authorization Act and Sec. 552(a) of the Homeland Security appropriations bill — appear to do just that. As Denniston points out, those laws open up a key question about Congress’ constitutional powers. In effect, it would mean that Congress could effectively suspend the prisoner’s right to habeas corpus – that is, to be released from unlawful detention.
Of course, by the time the court gets around to hearing the case this winter, President Obama may have already announced a new detainee policy, and Congress may have agreed to alter its spending restrictions. And if the Uighurs are all resettled, their case before the high court will be moot. But if the case survives until late winter, when the Supreme Court is expected to hear it, the administration and Congress may both get slapped down.