Law School Case Brief
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld - 296 F.3d 278 (4th Cir. 2002)
In the context of foreign relations and national security, a court's deference to the political branches of the national government is considerable. It is the President who wields delicate, plenary and exclusive power as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations -- a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress. And where the President does act with statutory authorization from Congress, there is all the more reason for deference. Indeed, Articles I and II prominently assign to Congress and the President the shared responsibility for military affairs. U.S. Const. art. I, § 8; art. II, § 2. In accordance with this constitutional text, the Supreme Court has shown great deference to the political branches when called upon to decide cases implicating sensitive matters of foreign policy, national security, or military affairs.
Esam Fouad Hamdi filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus as next friend of his son, Yaser Esam Hamdi, a detainee at the Norfolk Naval Station Brig who was captured as an alleged enemy combatant during ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. In its order of June 11, 2002, the district court concluded that Hamdi's father properly filed his case as next friend, appointed the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia as counsel for the petitioners, and ordered the government to allow the Public Defender unmonitored access to Hamdi. The federal government appealed the access order.
Did the district court err in allowing the Public Defender with unmonitored access to federal detainee Hamdi without adequately considering the implications of its actions and before allowing the United States even to respond?
The United States Court of Appeals reversed because the district court appointed counsel and ordered access to detainee Hamdi without adequately considering the implications of its actions and before allowing the United States to respond. Hamdi argued that the district court's order was proper because, as he claimed, he was a United States citizen. The Court stated that this was not an ordinary case given the ongoing hostilities, and the district court failed to address the many serious questions raised by these circumstances. However, the Court stopped short of adopting the government's position that the detainee, as an enemy combatant, could be detained at least for the duration of the hostilities, with no general right under the laws and customs of war, or the Constitution to meet with counsel concerning his detention, much less to meet with counsel in private, without military authorities present. Although recognizing its limited role in military affairs, an outright dismissal would allow, with no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant to be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel simply because the government said so. Upon remand, the district court was instructed to consider the most cautious procedures first, conscious of the prospect that the least drastic procedures may promptly resolve Hamdi's case and make more intrusive measures unnecessary.
Throughout the opinion, the Court emphasized the great deference shown by the judiciary to the political branches when called upon to decide cases implicating sensitive matters of foreign policy, national security, or military affairs. In the instant case, the district court's inattention to cardinal principles of constitutional text and practice that led to the errors below. Any judicial inquiry into Hamdi's status as an alleged enemy combatant in Afghanistan must reflect a recognition that government has no more profound responsibility than the protection of Americans, both military and civilian, against additional unprovoked attack.
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