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Saperstein: Today's Supreme Court rulings are a strong rebuke to those who seek to exploit the war on terror to diminish the Constitutional protections that make America so distinctive - and so important.
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2004 - The Supreme Court ruled today in the cases of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld v. Padilla, involving American citizens detained as "enemy combatants" by the Bush Administration, and Rasul v. Bush, regarding the foreign nationals detained at the American base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In each of the three cases, the Union for Reform Judaism jointly submitted amicus briefs to the Court arguing in favor of the protection of due process rights for detainees and the preservation of federal court jurisdiction. Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
In three related rulings today that will help recalibrate the balance between civil liberties and security during the prosecution of the war on terror, the Supreme Court rightly took steps toward limiting executive authority while also acknowledging the importance of that authority during time of war. While these were complex cases whose rulings did not always agree with the positions we espoused, in the main, today's Supreme Court rulings are a strong rebuke to those who seek to exploit the war on terror to diminish the Constitutional protections that make America so distinctive - and so important.
The Court's ruling in the Hamdi case is a victory for the constitutional separation of powers and a reminder that civil liberties must be protected vigilantly even in times of national security concerns. The Court rightly held that, although Congress did grant the President the authority to detain Hamdi, that authority does not extend to bar Hamdi from his basic right to challenge his detention in court. As Justice O'Connor wrote in the plurality opinion, the Court has "made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."
We also applaud the Supreme Court's ruling in Rasul protecting the right of Guantanamo Bay detainees to challenge their legal status in American courts. Our religious tradition holds fast to the Biblical exhortation to "have one law for stranger and citizen alike." Today's ruling makes that ancient teaching new again by confirming the jurisdiction of U.S. courts over challenges to the legality of detentions of foreign nationals held at the American base in Cuba.
The Court dismissed the Padilla case on a jurisdictional technicality, ruling that a lower-level military official, and not Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, is the only proper respondent to Padilla's claim.
We believe that, taken together, today's rulings uphold the importance of pursuing a strong, effective, security policy, one grounded in the Constitution and respect for individual rights. In keeping with the highest ideals of the American legal system and inspired by our Jewish heritage, we pledge to continue supporting potent counterterrorism strategies and robust civil liberties protections.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .