US court throws wrench in detention debate with unconstitutional ruling

A U.S. District Court in New York has blocked provisions in last year’s Defense authorization bill that allow for military detention for terror suspects, throwing a wrench in the debate that will take place on the House floor Thursday.

District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled against the U.S. government and in favor of a group of civilian activists and journalists who had sued over the detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, according to Reuters. The plaintiffs had said they feared being detained indefinitely by the law.

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“In the face of what could be indeterminate military detention, due process requires more," Forrest said.

The judge added that it was in the public interest to reconsider the law so “ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention,” according to Reuters.

The ruling could have an immediate impact in Congress, where House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) have an amendment that would also undo the detention provisions passed in last year’s Defense bill.

Their amendment, which will be debated on the House floor Thursday, goes even further and bars military detention for any terror suspects captured on U.S. soil.

Amash immediately seized upon the court ruling, sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members Wednesday evening about the court ruling.

“This evening, a federal court in New York struck down the 2012 NDAA’s indefinite detention provision as unconstitutional,” Amash wrote. “If our constituents haven’t sent a clear enough message, tonight’s ruling surely does: Congress must act now to guarantee the constitutional right to a charge and a trial.”

But House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), dismissed the ruling, and predicted it would be overturned in a higher court.

McKeon and supporters of the detention provisions in the Defense bill have argued that the courts already allow military detention for terror suspects, and that the 2012 NDAA codified the existing law. The 2012 legislation included a compromise provision that said the law did not affect U.S. citizens.

 “This ruling is inconsistent with what other federal courts have held on this issue,” McKeon said in a statement. “I agree with the Obama administration’s filing before the court, ‘This claim is baseless.’ I expect it will be overturned in short order.”