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What’s happenin’ on habeas

Kevin Lawlor, spokesman for Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, told me today that he’s heard House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., will introduce a bill next week to restore habeas corpus rights to all within U.S. jurisdiction.

Habeas corpus, for the Latin-challenged, essentially is the right to be brought to the court for a determination of whether one is imprisoned lawfully and whether one should be released. It dates back to the 12th Century, preceding its 1215 codification in the Magna Carta‘s section 39; our Constitution‘s Article I, Section 9, says it “shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” Yet under last year’s Military Commissions Act of 2006, non-citizens whom the government deems “unlawful enemy combatants” no longer have this right.

There had been rumors that the Armed Services Committee, on which Tauscher serves, would attach a rider restoring habeas corpus to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, H.R. 1585, which approves Pentagon spending for the next year. But no such rider materialized; Skelton’s staff said he felt so strongly about the issue that it deserved a bill of its very own.

So people have been waiting eagerly since HR 1585 passed last week to see when the habeas bill might drop. Lawlor said today the delay has been because Skelton was waiting for the Senate Judiciary Committee to assemble an equivalent bill of its own.

“We’re going to go at the same time as they do it so it’s easy to reconcile the two bills in conference,” he said. “It’s going to be when we come back from this recess. … We’ll look at it next week.”

And when Skelton’s bill does drop, Lawlor said, Tauscher will be among the original co-sponsors.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.