Thursday, June 12, 2008

"You know, democracies accept certain risks that tyrannies do not."

A lot of civil libertarians did not expect this fortunate break this morning:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

The justices handed the Bush administration its third setback at the high court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The vote was 5-4, with the court's liberal justices in the majority.

The dissenting justices were Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and--presumably--Thomas although, since Scalia was drinking a glass of water while the minority opinion was being read, Thomas remained silent. Noting the razor-thin 5-4 vote, John Aravosis comments:

If John McCain becomes president, the court will shift to the right and this will be another decision, like Roe v. Wade, that will be overturned.

Technically, that's probably not true about Roe (the anti-choice justices know they don't have to run the risk of backlash that overturning it would create; all they have to do is keep it technically legal while incrementally making it less and less available in practice to everyone--at least, everyone except the daughters of John McCain and George Bush.) But it's dead-on regarding habeas corpus. If elected, McCain would use the first vacancy on the court to secure that fifth vote to dispense with due process and habeas corpus in the name of fighting terrorism.

It's a sign of how empty many of our handy political distinctions have become when four Supreme Court Justices who would happily throw out a 700-year-old legal principle upon which most of our liberties as Americans are based can be described as "conservative."

It's sign of how little these people believe in the strength of our form of government, even as they call themselves patriots, that they don't believe it can be preserved without altering or eliminating its most fundamental values--or that we should even try.

(Title quote from constitutional scholar Bruce Fein.)

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