Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Homage to Habeas, Rocco, and Russert

Father's Day this year also coincided with an important anniversary for those of us who believe in the integrity of the rule of law. This from The Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1215, King John of England put his seal to the Magna Carta, one of the first historical documents to state that subjects have rights beyond the power of their rulers. The right to a trial by jury and the right of habeas corpus, which prevents one from being unlawfully imprisoned, have been extrapolated from the Magna Carta..."Magna Carta" means "great charter" in Latin.
Ralph D'Andrea, in addition to some good insight, provided the link to the entire Supreme Court decision that essentially gave the right of habeas corpus to terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay. I took a little time to read through most of the decision, and gained some valuable insight in how these justices evaluate complex legal questions that get posed to them for review and decision.

Key to the debate is Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of the United States, which states in part:
The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, referenced the Magna Carta in the specific details of his decision.
Magna Carta decreed that no man would be imprisoned contrary to the law of the land. Art. 39, in Sources of Our Liberties 17 (R. Perry & J. Cooper eds. 1959) (“No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land”). Important as the principle was, the Barons at Runnymede prescribed no specific legal process to enforce it. Holdsworth tells us, however, that gradually the writ of habeas corpus became the means by which the promise of Magna Carta was fulfilled.
Justice Kennedy's decision concluded with language that will hopefully make it into the history books someday:
The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.
I read some of the dissenting opinions, and most of them seemed to focus on the fact that the detainees are not being held in United States territory, and are foreign nationals not entitled to the rights and protections that being in the U.S. would otherwise afford them.

I read somewhere yesterday that Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee who has in the past voted to sustain decisions against abortion rights, along with other opinions fitting into a conservative agenda, teaches human rights law at a law school in Austria when the Court is not in session. It is thought that Justice Kennedy believes that U.S. law as it pertains to human rights should be consistent with that of the remainder of the western world.

The Daily Sentinel expressed considerable disdain for this decision on their editorial page of June 13. I respectfully disagree with their assertions. I believe that when wading through the minutiae that constitutes our earthly legislation and common law, there needs to be some core values at work that define us all as human beings, and subsequently shapes the laws that craft how we treat those accused of criminal activity, no matter how heinous.

For me, that includes the following:

Matthew 25:39-40

Isaiah 5:20-21

and numerous other references that can be viewed and researched here. Some I agree with, others I don't.

Bottom Line: We profess to be One Nation Under God.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Like the protections we expect from our public safety agencies when we are conducting our daily activities, this needs to be consistent and irrespective of the imaginary lines that we draw for ourselves to establish earthly governance.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


I watched a little bit of the US Open coverage on Monday, and have to take time to recognize the performance and demeanor of Rocco Mediate. He's originally from the Pittsburgh area, but over and above that he displayed the kind of attitude, professionalism, and performance in the face of considerable odds that we can all be proud to emulate.

I can only wish that I was more successful at some of what he accomplished yesterday. Congratulations to Tiger Woods as well. Pro Golf always seems to set a great example for extraordinary skill, intelligence, and civility.

Well done to all involved.


I didn't watch Meet The Press a lot, but I got the impression from watching MSNBC election coverage that Tim Russert was a class act of great proportions in what might otherwise be described as a morass of mediocrity.

His death, while very unfortunate and a great loss to the media in this country that specialize in covering politics, may go a long way in helping people in that segment of the industry remember how to sweat the details, do the homework, and have the courage to ask the right questions and report the truth.

With that in mind, I found the following clip as a tribute to Mr. Russert. It's the last few minutes of Good Night and Good Luck, with Edward R. Murrow (David Straithairn in a wonderful portrayal) issuing a warning to his colleagues. The clip starts with file film of President Eisenhower talking about habeas corpus. Apologies to those for whom YouTube is firewalled.

For those with any doubt of the need for some of the media to have a reminder of how someone of Murrow's stature, or Russert's, achieved that plateau, may I offer Jon Stewart from last night.


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