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June 13, 2008

Success for UT Law School’s Clinic in U.S. Supreme Court Case Concerning Guantanamo Detainees

In an historic decision, the significance of which some have likened to Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right of foreign citizens labeled as “enemy combatants” to challenge the legality of their detention. The National Security & Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law was part of the legal team representing the detainees in the case.

Upholding the rule of law in the face of the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” policies, the Court ruled, 5 to 4 on Thursday, June 12, 2008, that individuals detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base have the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. federal courts through a habeas petition.

The Court further rejected the system put in place by the Administration to classify the detainees as “enemy combatants” and the review process established by Congress in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court stated, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”

Students and faculty in the National Security & Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law had the opportunity to work directly on this case titled, Boumediene/Al Odah during the fall 2007 semester by assisting on a brief filed with the Court shortly before it heard oral argument.

Clinic students and faculty took a trip to Washington, D.C., to hear the oral argument before the Supreme Court, camping out in the snow and below freezing-weather the night before in order to guarantee seats before the nine Justices. The students’ passion for the rule of law and belief in the U.S. justice system also led them to write an op-ed, which was published in the Dallas Morning News.

UT Law Professors Kristine Huskey, Derek Jinks, and Scott Sullivan have been involved in the Guantanamo litigation, writing amici briefs, representing detainees, and traveling to the infamous prison to meet their clients, for several years now.

“Having been part of the original Al Odah case that was filed in 2002 and fighting for the Rule of Law ever since, this decision, though long in coming, is a great victory for American justice and for those who have been detained for six years without a proper hearing. Now, these men will get the chance to prove their innocence in a real court,” said Huskey, Director of the National Security & Human Rights Clinic.

David Currie, a 2008 UT Law graduate and a student in the Clinic during his third year, worked on the Al Odah case and represented a Guantanamo detainee. Pleased by the decision, Currie said, “Naturally, I’m incredibly proud of the work of my professors and fellow students. “But more than anything else, today I’m proud of my profession. Like many students, I came to law school with dreams of fighting injustice and vindicating the rule of law. So, working on the Boumediene/Al-Odah case and later, preparing and filing an actual habeas petition was a dream come true. I’m looking forward to becoming a lawyer even more than when I started law school.”

Related link:

Defending Habeas: the National Security & Human Rights Clinic goes to the United States Supreme Court

Clinic contact: Professor Kristine Huskey, Director, National Security & Human Rights Clinic, 512-232-3675, 703-568-7545; khuskey@law.utexas.edu

Press contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or kfortune@law.utexas.edu.