Detention and Military Trial of Suspected Terrorists: Stretching Presidential Power

The system of detention and military trial authorized by President George W. Bush on November 13, 2001, and additional claimed authority to hold terrorist suspects indefinitely without process, have been litigated in several judicial circuits, moving from district courts to the Supreme Court and back down again. In 2006, these authorities returned to the Court for further exploration in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Regrettably, until very recently the separation of powers issues raised by the President’s initiatives received little attention from Congress, which, under the Constitution, has primary responsibility over military courts, tribunals “inferior to the supreme Court,” “Offenses against the Law of Nations,” the war power, and “Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Because of congressional passivity, the principal checks on presidential power have been supplied instead by litigants and courts. The constitutional issues that emerge from this concentration of power in the presidency form the central theme of this article.

Lead Author

Louis Fisher
Louis Fisher is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project. Previously he worked for four decades at the Library of Congress as Senior Specialist in Separation of Powers (Congressional Research Service, from 1970 to 2006) and Specialist in Constitutional Law (the Law Library, from 2006 to 2010. During his service with CRS he was research director of the House Iran-Contra Committee in 1987, writing major sections of the final report.
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