The jurisdiction of the federal courts to consider habeas petitions brought by detainees held as part of the “war on terrorism” has been a popular topic for courts and commentators alike. Little attention has been paid, however, to whether the Constitution itself interposes any jurisdictional limits over such petitions. In a series of recent cases, the US government has invoked the Supreme Court’s obscure (and obtuse) 1948 decision in Hirota v. MacArthur (338 US 197) for the proposition that Article III forecloses jurisdiction over any petition brought by a detainee in foreign or international custody, including that of the “Multinational Force—Iraq.” This article disputes that argument, along with the citizenship-based distinction that the courts in the current cases have thus far drawn to distinguish Hirota, and explains why Article III imposes no such bar, even where the detainee is not a U.S. citizen. Instead, Article III only bars such a petition if the detainee is not in the actual or constructive custody of the United States. The author concludes that the distinction that courts have drawn in the current cases is not only untenable, but is indicative of Hirota’s deeper flaw—namely, that it misconceived the relationship between Article III, citizenship, and habeas corpus, and obfuscated the more important debate over the scope of the substantive rights enforceable through the “Great Writ.”
Vladeck, Stephen I. “Deconstructing Hirota: Habeas Corpus, Citizenship, and Article III.” Georgetown Law Journal 95, no. 5 (May 2007): 1497-1554.