A U.S. appeals court, acting in the case of alleged "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla, today rejected the administration's move to avoid another Supreme Court review of its powers of detention, blasting the government in unusually blunt terms for its behavior in the case which, it said, may have significantly damaged "its credibility before the courts."
The decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond stems from the administration's actions last month just as the Supreme Court was set to consider whether to review the Padilla case.
At that time, after holding him without charges for three-and-a-half years, it indicted Padilla on criminal charges and asked the 4th Circuit to have him moved from a military prison to a civilian prison, thus mooting the issues the Supreme Court might have reviewed on the question of detention without formal charge.
On top of that, the government asked the appeals court to withdraw the opinion it issued that might have been considered by the justices, even though that opinion upheld the administration's position on detention.
Today, the panel rejected both requests in an opinion written by J. Michael Luttig, a conservative often mentioned on the administration's short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Its actions revive the possibility that the high court will review the Padilla case and at least give the justices the opportunity to review it, which the administration sought to avoid.
The appeals court opinion reflected a tone of anger that is rare for a federal court addressing the United States government, particularly in a matter of presidential authority.
Luttig said the government's actions created the appearance "that the government may be attempting to avoid" Supreme Court review in a matter of "especial national importance."
He also suggested that the government's actions in the Padilla case may possibly have had negative consequences for "the public perception of the war on terror" and "also for the government's credibility before the courts in litigation ancillary to that war.
" . . . We cannot help but believe that those consequences have been underestimated" by the government, he added.
For "as the government must surely understand," it has left "the impression" that Padilla may have been held for these years "by mistake, an impression we would have thought the government could ill afford to leave extant."