Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional


Suspension during the Civil War

To President Bush’s support for the law — the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — and its suspension of writs of habeas corpus, Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University stated, "What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

President Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War

Five years later, a new Supreme Court essentially backed Justice Taney’s ruling: In an unrelated case, the court held that only Congress could suspend habeas corpus and that civilians were not subject to military courts, even in times of war.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

On May 28, 1861, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney directly challenged President Abraham Lincoln’s wartime suspension of the great writ of habeas corpus, in a national constitutional showdown.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

Slate’s Use of Your Data

…To state the question more directly, are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated? Even in such a case, would not the official oath be broken, if the government should be overthrown, when it was believed that disregarding the single law, would tend to preserve it?  But it was not believed that this question was presented.  It was not believed that any law was violated.

A proclamation on the suspension of habeas corpus, 1862

When Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861, the executive branch was small and relatively limited in its power. By the time of his assassination, he had claimed more prerogatives than any president before him, and the executive branch had grown enormously.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

Search form

By December 1862, Congress was able to vote on an official suspension of habeas corpus. This time, Congress prevailed by passing the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, signed into law March 3, 1863. This piece of legislation gave the president the power to officially suspend habeas corpus without the direct consent of Congress*. Lincoln had achieved a great strategic victory in attempting to suppress the rebellion. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was eventually terminated in December 1865 by President Andrew Johnson.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

Library of Congress

The petition presents the following case: The petitioner resides in Maryland, in Baltimore county. While peaceably in his own house, with his family, it was at two o’clock, on the morning of the 25th of May, 1861, entered by an armed force, professing to act under military orders. He was then compelled to rise from his bed, taken into custody, and conveyed to Fort McHenry, where he is imprisoned by the commanding officer, without warrant from any lawful authority.

Suspension of habeas corpus unconstitutional

On this day in 1861, in the second month of the Civil War, Union troops arrested John Merryman, a Maryland state legislator. He was indicted for treason and confined at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, charged with seeking to hinder U.S. troop movements from Baltimore to Washington, which was threatened by Confederate forces.