Supreme Court Chickens Out
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to rule on the matter of whether the President of the United States has the power to imprison people without a trial. Attorneys for Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri had challenged legal proceedings against their client on the grounds that al-Marri had been illegally and unconstitutionally imprisoned for almost six years without having any criminal charges filed against him.
Finally, last week, charges of material support for terrorism were brought against al-Marri. Al-Marri was held in custody of the U.S. military, though he was not found on any battlefield. Al-Marri was arrested on a college campus in Peoria, Illinois. The Constitution clearly states that everyone under the jurisdiction of the US government has the right to a fair and speedy trial when accused of a crime. George W. Bush declared that he had the power to deny Al-Marri that right, for the sake of national security.
The Associated Press writes that, by declining to hear Al-Marri’s arguments, President Obama avoids “the unpalatable choice of defending the detention policies of the Bush administration, which candidate Barack Obama strongly criticized, or hurriedly renouncing a power that President Obama has never claimed.” I don’t understand the logic of this statement. What’s so unpalatable about defending the Constitution? If Barack Obama didn’t approve of George W. Bush’s policies of imprisonment without trial as a state legislator and US senator, then why would Obama have a problem with stating clearly that he will not claim those same powers himself?
Is it that President Obama wants to keep the option of imprisoning people without trial, just in case? Or, does Barack Obama not want to take the political risk of appearing soft on terrorism? Has it come to that, that a Democratic President regards upholding the Constitution as unpalatable?
The President of the United States is, as an elected official with a limited term, vulnerable to political considerations. The members of the Supreme Court, however, are appointed for life for the purpose of deciding legal issues above the realm of political considerations. The Court ought to have had the courage to decide the legal issue of whether the President can haul people off to prison whenever he likes.
Two out of three branches of the federal government let us down yesterday… and the other wasn’t even involved. It was too busy arguing about money.