We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
Start  |  WTP  | CCE
Howard Chandler Christy, Signing of the Constitution, Architect of the Capitol, House wing, east stairway
Lesson 4 Court Cases

Ex Parte Milligan (1866)
Facts of the Case:
Lambden P. Milligan was sentenced to death by a military commission in Indiana during the Civil War; he had engaged in acts of disloyalty. Milligan sought release through habeas corpus from a federal court.

Does a civil court have jurisdiction over a military tribunal?

Yes. Davis, speaking for the Court, held that trials of civilians by presidentially created military commissions are unconstitutional. Martial law cannot exist where the civil courts are operating.

The Oyez Project, Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866)

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)
Facts of the Case:
Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former chauffeur, was captured by Afghani forces and imprisoned by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court to challenge his detention. Before the district court ruled on the petition, he received a hearing from a military tribunal, which designated him an enemy combatant. A few months later, the district court granted Hamdan's habeas petition, ruling that he must first be given a hearing to determine whether he was a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention before he could be tried by a military commission. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the decision, however, finding that the Geneva Convention could not be enforced in federal court and that the establishment of military tribunals had been authorized by Congress and was therefore not unconstitutional.

May the rights protected by the Geneva Convention be enforced in federal court through habeas corpus petitions? Was the military commission established to try Hamdan and others for alleged war crimes in the War on Terror authorized by the Congress or the inherent powers of the president?

Yes. No. The Supreme Court, in a 5-to-3 decision authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, held that neither an act of Congress nor the inherent powers of the executive laid out in the Constitution expressly authorized the sort of military commission at issue in this case. Absent that express authorization, the commission had to comply with the ordinary laws of the United States and the laws of war. The Geneva Convention, as a part of the ordinary laws of war, could therefore be enforced by the Supreme Court, along with the statutory Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hamdan's exclusion from certain parts of his trial deemed classified by the military commission violated both of these, and the trial was therefore illegal. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito dissented. Chief Justice John Roberts, who participated in the case while serving on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, did not take part in the decision.

The Oyez Project, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. ___ (2006)

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)
Facts of the Case:
The Pennsylvania legislature amended its abortion control law in 1988 and 1989. Among the new provisions, the law required informed consent and a 24 hour waiting period prior to the procedure. A minor seeking an abortion required the consent of one parent (the law allows for a judicial bypass procedure). A married woman seeking an abortion had to indicate that she notified her husband of her intention to abort the fetus. These provisions were challenged by several abortion clinics and physicians. A federal appeals court upheld all the provisions except for the husband notification requirement.

Can a state require women who want an abortion to obtain informed consent, wait 24 hours, and, if minors, obtain parental consent, without violating their right to abortions as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?

Sometimes. In a bitter 5-to-4 decision, the Court again reaffirmed Roe, but it upheld most of the Pennsylvania provisions. For the first time, the justices imposed a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions. The new standard asks whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an "undue burden," which is defined as a "substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability." Under this standard, the only provision to fail the undue-burden test was the husband notification requirement. The opinion for the Court was unique: It was crafted and authored by three justices.

The Oyez Project, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)

Rumsfeld v. Padilla (2004)
Facts of the Case:
Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was arrested in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan in 2002. He was initially detained as a material witness in the government's investigation of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, but was later declared an "enemy combatant" by the Department of Defense, meaning that he could be held in prison indefinitely without access to an attorney or to the courts. The FBI claimed that he was returning to the United States to carry out acts of terrorism. Donna Newman, who had represented him while he was being held as a material witness, filed a petition for habeas corpus on his behalf. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Newman had standing to file the petition despite the fact that Padilla had been moved to a military brig in South Carolina. However, the court also found that the Department of Defense, under the president's constitutional powers as Commander in Chief and the statutory authorization provided by Congress's Authorization for Use of Military Force, had the power to detain Padilla as an enemy combatant. The district judge rejected Newman's argument that the detention was prohibited by the federal Non-Detention Act, which states that no "citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." On appeal, a divided Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the district court's "enemy combatant" ruling. The panel found that the Authorization for Use of Military force did not meet the requirement of the Non-Detention Act and that the president could not, therefore, declare American citizens captured outside a combat zone as enemy combatants.

Does Congress's "Authorization for use of Military Force" authorize the president to detain a United States citizen based on a determination that he is an enemy combatant, or is that power precluded by the Non-Detention Act?

The Court did not reach a decision on the merits in this case. Instead, in 5-to-4 opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court found that the case had been improperly filed. Under federal law, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus can only be filed against the person directly responsible for a prisoner's confinement or, put another way, the person with the power to bring the prisoner to court. In most cases this person is the warden of the petitioner's prison; in this case, it was the commander of the military brig in which Padilla was held. Because Padilla's attorney had listed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the defendant, instead of the brig commander, and because the suit was filed in New York instead of in South Carolina, where the commander lived and worked, the Court found that the case would have to be re-filed in a federal district court in South Carolina. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer dissented, finding that an exception should be made to the jurisdictional rule because the government had moved Padilla to South Carolina without giving his attorney notice to file the habeas writ.

The Oyez Project, Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426 (2004)

Lesson 4      What Were the British Origins of American Constitutionalism?
Menu Unit Lesson Section Tools