With last Friday's Supreme Court ruling that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base are entitled to habeas corpus hearings, the Supreme Court not only showed that some branches of the United States government are not craven cowards, but also, through the reactions of the two political parties, provided the best evidence yet of the stark differences that exist between those who wish us all to surrender our Constitutional rights in the name of "security" and those who might actually prefer to keep those rights even in the face of grave threats (which are never really named other than the threat of death).
George Will has managed, in his column, to show how McCain's hyperbolic red-shirt waving after the Court's ruling is a bunch of hooey. Not only that, he manages to tell us why that is so.
The day after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo are entitled to seek habeas corpus hearings, John McCain called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."
No state power is more fearsome than the power to imprison. Hence the habeas right has been at the heart of the centuries-long struggle to constrain governments, a struggle in which the greatest event was the writing of America's Constitution, which limits Congress's power to revoke habeas corpus to periods of rebellion or invasion. Is it, as McCain suggests, indefensible to conclude that Congress exceeded its authority when, with the Military Commissions Act (2006), it withdrew any federal court jurisdiction over the detainees' habeas claims?
As the conservative and libertarian Cato Institute argued in its amicus brief in support of the petitioning detainees, habeas, in the context of U.S. constitutional law, "is a separation of powers principle" involving the judicial and executive branches. The latter cannot be the only judge of its own judgment.
This is part of the "Lie Watch", first, because this is hardly "the worst" Supreme Court decision. Second, by reaffirming the right to habeas corpus, it puts the executive branch on notice that it cannot, willy-nilly, scoop people up and put them in prison. It has to state in public why this is so. Habeas Corpus is not just a restraint on executive overreach. It is a guarantee that the state will not, someday in the future, come after you, me, or someone else, lock us away without cause or public hearing, for years on end, in the name of "security" or anything else. I am quite sure that McCain understands that. I am also quite sure that he does not care.