Supremes Reverse, Will Hear Gitmo Detainee Appeal

Brian Zick

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog reports: In a startling turn of events in the legal combat over the war on terrorism, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to reconsider the appeals in the Guantanamo Bay detainee cases. It vacated its April 2 order denying review of the two packets of cases. The Court then granted review, consolidated the cases, and said they would be heard in a one-hour argument in the new Term starting Oct. 1. Such a switch by the Court -- from denial to rehearing and new argument and decision -- may not have occurred previously, legal sources said Friday. The order also said that new briefs will be sought, after the D.C. Circuit rules in pending cases on how judicial review is to work for detainees under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. The cases to be reheard by the Supreme Court are Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al Odah v. U.S. (06-1196). In those cases, the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 had stripped detainees of their rights to bring habeas challenges to their confinement. That is the ruling that the Supreme Court left intact in April, but now will move forward to review. Under the Court's Rules and precedents, it would have taken the votes of five Justices to grant rehearing, compared with the requirement of four votes to initially grant an appeal. When the Court denied review in April, only three Justices voted to hear the cases. But two of the other six, Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy, indicated they wanted the detainees to first attempt to get legal relief in the D.C. Circuit. Under the Detainee Treatment Act, the Circuit Court has the authority to provide limited review of military decisions to continue holding Guantanamo prisoners as "enemy combatants." Friday's order was an indication that those two Justices had decided that the Court needed to change its approach, and so provided the votes needed to grant rehearing. Under the Court's rules, a rehearing is granted only if there has been a change in "intervening circumstances of a substantial or controlling effect" or if counsel can cite "substantial grounds not previously presented."

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