December 19, 2003
Making Good On Past Mistakes
The courts in America have a long history of making really stupid decisions, out of deference to current passions and to the Executive Branch, that only decades later are recognized to be unsupportable. In the 19th century the Supreme Court held that black slaves were property -- the 1857 Dred Scott decision. The Civil War and the 13th Amendment overturned Dred Scott. Later (in 1897 in Plessy v. Ferguson) it ruled that "separate but equal" was adequate for public education, upholding Jim Crow laws in the South, something that stained this country until the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. And in its most infamous moment, the Korematsu opinion, the Court held that Japanese-American citizens could be interned in California concentration camps, and their property taken away, without any reasonable cause or suspicion, merely because of their race, due to the "exigencies" of World War II.
Well the courts attoned for these sins a little yesterday. In New York, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Padilla v. Rumsfeld that holding U.S. citizens indefinitely without charges, on grounds that they have aided terrorists and are therefore "enemy combatants," is beyond the President's power. Their faces may be brown and heads covered with kaffiyeh, but the message is clear. Unlike WWII, the courts in today's war on terror are not going to sit idly by while the mob mentality infecting America's political response to terrorism runs roughshod over our constitutional rights and civil liberties. I say, thank God for that Constitution and the federal courts.Posted by glenn