Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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June 15, 2007

So, it’s HC’s birthday today. Three cheers for the jolly little green fellow, wherever he may be in these dark constitutional times. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero gives us a little history and a little inspiration (and a little country and a little rock and roll) in this celebratory post on HuffPo.And I quote:

On this anniversary, I urge everyone to join our fight to restore due process and habeas corpus. On June 26, thousands of activists will join the ACLU, Amnesty International and other coalition partners for a Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice in Washington, D.C. We’ll be rallying, speaking out and meeting face-to-face with lawmakers to demand that Congress restore habeas corpus, stop torture, and protect our constitutional freedoms.We should be proud of our national determination to give every person — even those people accused of the most serious crimes — a fair trial in a neutral court. That is, in the words of Colin Powell, what America is “all about.”Here’s hoping habeas is feeling happier and healthier next June, when it reaches its 793rd birthday.

Mr. Romero also points out a central problem with the administration’s claims of “inherent” executive power to designate individuals as “enemy combatants” (and thus, under the Military Commissions Act, deny them habeas protections).That is, we generally celebrate the big HC’s birthday on June 15 because that’s the anniversary (the 792nd anniversary, to be precise) of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, Surrey County.Now, the administration constantly argues that this is a new kind of “war,” requiring new kinds of rules. See my post rebutting that whole notion. It argues that our national security situation demands some relaxation of traditional civil liberties and constitutional protections. But, and here’s the key insight in Mr. Romero’s post, the Magna Carta and its recognition of what would become the modern writ of habeas corpus, stemmed from war, not peace.King John was forced to adopt the Magna Carta (which he promptly disavowed) after a cadre of his barons revolted. They did so because of ruinous taxation, conflicts with Rome and a series of military defeats by John, who you might call a “wartime king.” Now, after John repudiated the Magna Carta another civil war broke out, which finally resulted in his successor, Henry III (who was nine at the time), readopting the Magna Carta. That brought the barons back into the fold and peace back to aulde England.The point, I guess, is that all of our constitutional liberties, and especially habeas corpus, were created in the midst of intense “national security” crises. Whether it’s the constant games of state being played at the time of constitutional ratification in the late eighteenth century, or the “rights revolution” of the Warren court in the middle of the Cold War and the civil rights struggle, America expands personal liberty at exactly the historical moments that the Bush administration says we should curtail it. And so it should be.Habeas corpus: not going strong eight centuries on. Let’s find him, and quick.

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