BREAKING: SCOTUS Dismisses Al-Marri Case

NOTE: Several updates below.

Reuters reports that:

The court dismissed Marri’s case on whether terrorism suspects can be held without charges in the United States after the Obama administration last week obtained a federal court indictment accusing him of providing material support to al Qaeda.

The justices in a brief order sided with Obama administration attorneys, who told the high court that Marri’s pending legal challenge had been rendered moot by his indictment.

I’m awaiting a statement from the ACLU which I’ll post soon as I get it. SCOTUSblog says:

The Supreme Court on Friday wiped out a lower court ruling that gave the President authority to detain indefinitely individuals living in the United States as terrorism suspects. The order also approved transfer of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri from military custody to civilian custody for a trial on criminal charges in civilian court.

Slip opinion has not yet been posted on the SCOTUS website. Soon as I have more on this, it will be posted here.

UPDATE:  Here’s the full text of the ORDER, via a DOC file from SCOTUSblog:

 (ORDER LIST: 555 U.S.)

FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2009

CERTIORARI — SUMMARY DISPOSITION

08-368      AL-MARRI, ALI V. SPAGONE, DANIEL

(08A755)        

                       The application of the Acting Solicitor General respecting the custody and transfer of petitioner, seeking to release petitioner from military custody and transfer him to the custody of the Attorney General, presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is granted.  The judgment is vacated and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit with instructions to dismiss the appeal as moot. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 (1950).

For those interested, the Munsingwear case cited above can be read in its entirety here.

UPDATE #2:  Thinking there might be a question or two on this, what the order above means is that the Fourth Circuit decision that the president can detain a defendant indefinitely now can no longer be used as a precedent for future action.  Meaning it cannot be relied upon to provide legal cover in the future.  

For more on vacating judgments, albeit more in the civil context than criminal, this NYtimes article does a good job laying out the particulars, including:

A vacated decision is not literally destroyed; it can still be found in the courthouse where it was first issued, if anyone knows to look for it there. But its effect as a precedent has been wiped away.

That’s as good a lay definition of vacating a decision as I’ve seen.

UPDATE#3: SCOTUSblog has added to their analysis, and I agree with their assessment on vacating the opinion from the 4th Circuit being a good thing.  ACLU statement will get added here soon as I get it. 

UPDATE #4:  ALCU issued their press release on this — you can read it in full here.  Attorney Jonathon Hafetz had this to say:

While we would have preferred a Supreme Court ruling that U.S. citizens and lawful residents detained in the U.S. cannot be held in military custody as ‘enemy combatants’ without charges or trial, the Supreme Court nonetheless took an important step today by vacating a lower court decision that had upheld the Bush administration’s authority to designate al-Marri as an ‘enemy combatant.’ Congress never granted the president that authority and the Constitution does not permit it. We trust that the Obama administration will not repeat the abuses of the Bush administration having now chosen to prosecute Mr. al-Marri in federal court rather than defend the Bush administration’s actions in this case.

More on this at the ACLU blog.

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