Supreme Court refuses to hear Guantánamo Bay detainee case
The Supreme Court turned aside a second appeal from five Uighurs, held at Guantánamo Bay's prison camp since 2002 despite admissions from the Bush administration that they are neither enemy combatants nor connected to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
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The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with the government, ruling that the captive Uighurs, as foreign nationals held in overseas detention, had no right to gain access to the US. Immigration and matters of foreign policy are for the political branches to decide, not the judiciary, the appeals court said.Skip to next paragraph
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Resettlement options for the Uighur detainees
The Supreme Court agreed to examine the case last year, but while the appeal was pending, the administration revealed that it had located countries willing to accept the Uighurs.
The five remaining Uighurs rejected a resettlement offer from Palau and from an unidentified second country.
The rejection undercut the five Uighurs’ earlier argument that their only alternative to indefinite detention at Guantánamo was release in the US.
In light of the new developments, the Supreme Court in 2010 sent the case back to the lower courts to determine what further proceedings were “necessary and appropriate” to resolve the case.
The appeals court reinstated its earlier ruling, barring transfer of the Uighurs to the US.
Latest appeal: judicial authority and the separation of powers
In urging the Supreme Court to take up the case once again, lawyers for the Uighurs argued that the appeals court ruling substantially undercuts the power of federal judges under the Constitution to decisively resolve cases.
The appeals court ruled that since the executive branch holds the power to negotiate the Uighurs’ resettlement and controls the entry of foreign nationals into the US, a federal judge cannot order the government to bring the men to the US.
Lawyers for the Uighurs said the appeals court’s ruling violated the separation of powers and the concept that the federal judiciary has the authority not just to rule on cases, but to definitively decide them. Once a court rules, it is the obligation of the executive branch to follow the law as declared by the judiciary, they said.
“The court of appeals turned that structural principle on its head,” wrote Sabin Willet in his brief on behalf of the Uighurs. “By transferring remedial power to the executive and barring the district courts from issuing anything other than exhortations to diplomacy, [the appeals court] reconfigured the judiciary into an arm of the executive.”
The Obama administration countered that the Uighurs have won their case and are no longer being detained as enemy combatants. All that remains, the government said, is the arrangement of resettlement from Guantánamo to a third country.
“The court of appeals correctly ruled that petitioners’ refusal to accept resettlement in other countries does not entitle them to a court order requiring the government to bring them into the United States,” wrote Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler in his brief.
This case does not raise far-reaching questions of judicial authority and the separation of powers, Mr. Kneedler said.
“The only question here is whether these particular petitioners are entitled to be brought into the United States and released when the government has agreed not to return them to their home country but to arrange their resettlement in a safe third country,” he wrote.