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Law School Case Brief

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld - 542 U.S. 507, 124 S. Ct. 2633 (2004)


Regarding the tension that often exists between the autonomy that the Government asserts is necessary in order to pursue effectively a particular goal and the process that a citizen contends he is due before he is deprived of a constitutional right, the ordinary mechanism that the United States Supreme Court uses for balancing such serious competing interests, and for determining the procedures that are necessary to ensure that a citizen is not deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, U.S. Const. amend. 5, is the Mathews test. Mathews dictates that the process due in any given instance is determined by weighing the private interest that will be affected by the official action against the Government's asserted interest, including the function involved and the burdens the Government would face in providing greater process. The Mathews calculus then contemplates a judicious balancing of these concerns, through an analysis of the risk of an erroneous deprivation of the private interest if the process were reduced and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute safeguards.


One week after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution (AUMF), which included authorization for the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against "nations, organizations, or persons" associated with the September 11 attacks. Subsequently, United States and allied armed forces engaged in military operations in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime was asserted to have supported an organization which had made the September 11 attacks. An individual who was allegedly a United States citizen was captured or seized in Afghanistan, in circumstances which would be disputed, by forces allied to the United States, and then turned over to the United States military. In 2002, the individual was transferred to a United States Navy facility in Virginia. The individual was still being detained there when his father filed, on the individual's purported behalf in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, a habeas corpus petition under 28 USCS § 2241. The habeas corpus petition alleged that the Federal Government had improperly held the individual without access to legal counsel or notice of any charges pending against him. Furthermore,  it included claims that the detention of the individual--"an American citizen"--had not been legally authorized, and  violated provisions including the Federal Constitution's Fifth Amendment. The District Court found that the father was a proper "next friend" of the individual, appointed counsel, and ordered that counsel be given access to the individual. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in reversing and remanding, expressed the view that the District Court had failed to extend appropriate deference to the Federal Government's security and intelligence interests. On remand, the Federal Government filed a response and a motion to dismiss the petition. On appeal, the Court of Appeals, in reversing and in ordering the habeas corpus petition to be dismissed, expressed the view that even though the individual "apparently" was a United States citizen, and even if § 4001(a) required congressional authorization for his detention, the AUMF provided such authorization.


Was the petition for habeas corpus properly dismissed?




The Supreme Court vacated the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. According to the Court, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), 115 Stat. 224, authorized the detention of individuals in the citizen-detainee's circumstances and that the AUMF satisfied 18 U.S.C.S. § 4001(a)'s requirement that a detention be "pursuant to an Act of Congress." However, under the Mathews analysis, the Court determined that the citizen-detainee, seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant, was entitled to receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government's factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker. The Court rejected the Government's assertion that separation of powers principles mandated a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances.

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