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Homeland Security

Analysis: High Court Reins in Bush Administration

Council on Foreign Relations

June 30, 2006
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

"Judicial review is alive and well, post 9/11," says Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First, on the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The landmark decision, explained in this new Backgrounder, deals a significant blow to the White House's efforts to establish military commissions (Human Rights Watch) to try those it calls "unlawful combatants" at Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court argues in its 5-3 ruling that the proposed tribunals are in violation of both the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees during wartime. More importantly, the ruling strikes at one of the Bush administration's core notions, that "the president alone can determine how to defend the country" (WashPost). Rather, President Bush will have to subject efforts to try "unlawful combatants" to Congressional oversight (NYT), a process that was set in motion almost immediately (BBC).


The decision marks the second time the Supreme Court has imposed limits on the powers of the presidency to execute the war on terror—the first being the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision, which limited the Bush administration's ability to detain prisoners indefinitely without legal process (CSMonitor). Some legal experts say the decision may speed up the process of shutting down the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, which human rights advocates have demanded. The ruling also casts doubt on the fate of its some 450 detainees.

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Copyright 2006 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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