In a major ruling with enormous implications, a federal judge has ruled that the government has 45 days to charge Jose Padilla with a crime, prove that he is a material witness and must be held, or release him. Padilla, a US citizen, has been held for over two and a half years in a military prison with no charges filed against him and no chance to have his day in court to challenge his detention, in clear violation of at least three amendments in the Bill of Rights. A suit was filed in federal court last year, but the Supreme Court ruled in June that it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction and that it had to be refiled in South Carolina, location of the military prison in which he is being held. This is the first ruling in that refiled lawsuit, and you can read the judge’s ruling here.
Judge Henry Floyd correctly ruled that there simply is no constitutional authority for the president to arbitrarily suspend habeas corpus in individual cases. Only Congress has the authority to suspend habeas corpus, and only then in the most extreme of circumstances requiring the imposition of martial law, such as rebellion or invasion.
“If the law in its current state is found by the president to be insufficient to protect this country from terrorist plots, such as the one alleged here, then the president should prevail upon Congress to remedy the problem,” he wrote.
In the ruling, Floyd said that three court cases that the government used to make its claim did not sufficiently apply to Padilla’s case.
Floyd wrote that, in essence, “the detention of a United States citizen by the military is disallowed without explicit Congressional authorization.”
Floyd wrote that because the government had not provided any proof that the president has the power to hold Padilla, he must reject the government’s claim of authority.
“To do otherwise would not only offend the rule of law and violate this country’s constitutional tradition, but it would also be a betrayal of this nation’s commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties,” he wrote.
“For the court to find for [the U.S. government] would also be to engage in judicial activism. This court sits to interpret the law as it is and not as the court might wish it to be. Pursuant to its interpretation, the court finds that the President has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold [Padilla] as an enemy combatant,” Floyd wrote.
The article also says that the administration is expected to appeal the decision, which can only be in the interests of wasting more time. If they’ve read the Hamdi decision from last summer, they have to know they have zero chance of actually winning the case. In the Hamdi case, the Supreme Court completely rebutted the President’s claim of authority to suspend habeas corpus, with even Scalia saying that the court didn’t go far enough in its opinion. The administration can’t seriously think they’re going to win when this case, which is much clearer than the Hamdi case simply because Padilla was arrested on American soil while Hamdi was captured in combat abroad, gets back up to the Supreme Court. This judge should be applauded.