Gitmo Lawyers Remind Supreme Court That Only the Supreme Court Decides Whether It Has Jurisdiction

Brian Zick

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog reports Lawyers for a Guantanamo Bay detainee, Sharaf Al Sanani, told the Supreme Court Wednesday that a lower court ruling closing federal courts to detainees' challenges to detention is not binding on the Supreme Court. Thus, the attorneys contended, the Court retains the power to order the Pentagon to describe why it is holding Al Sanani after more than five years of captivity at the military prison camp in Cuba. In answering a Justice Department plea for the Court to deny all relief to Al Sanani, the Yemeni national's attorneys said that only the Supreme Court itself can determine whether it has lost jurisdiction over detainee cases under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The D.C. Circuit Court on Tuesday relied on the MCA in ordering the dismissal of scores of habeas claims pending in District Courts in Washington, D.C. (…) The attorneys are relying upon the Supreme Court's 1947 decision in U.S. v. United Mine Workers, for their argument that the Court itself decides when it has jurisdiction when that is in dispute. The UMW decision included this quotation from a 1906 opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: "This court…and it alone necessarily had jurisdiction to decide whether the case was properly before it….Until its judgment declining jurisdiction should be announced, it had authority, from the necessity of the case, to make orders to preserve the existing conditions and the subject of the petition…"

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