Rumsfeld v. Padilla

PETITIONER: Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
RESPONDENT: Jose Padilla and Donna R. Newman, as Next Friend of Jose Padilla
LOCATION: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 03-1027
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 542 US 426 (2004)
GRANTED: Feb 20, 2004
ARGUED: Apr 28, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2004

Jennifer Martinez - argued the cause for Respondents
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Jose Padilla, an American citizen, was arrested in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan in 2002. He was initially detained as a material witness in the government's investigation of the al Qaeda terrorist network, but was later declared an "enemy combatant" by the Department of Defense, meaning that he could be held in prison indefinitely without access to an attorney or to the courts. The FBI claimed that he was returning to the United States to carry out acts of terrorism.

Donna Newman, who had represented him while he was being held as a material witness, filed a petition for habeas corpus on his behalf. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Newman had standing to file the petition despite the fact that Padilla had been moved to a military brig in South Carolina. However, the court also found that the Department of Defense, under the President's constitutional powers as Commander in Chief and the statutory authorization provided by Congress's Authorization for Use of Military Force, had the power to detain Padilla as an enemy combatant. The district judge rejected Newman's argument that the detention was prohibited by the federal Non-Detention Act, which states that no "citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress."

On appeal, a divided Second Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the district court's "enemy combatant" ruling. The panel found that the Authorization for Use of Military force did not meet the requirement of the Non-Detention Act and that the President could not, therefore, declare American citizens captured outside a combat zone as enemy combatants.


Does Congress's "Authorization for use of Military Force" authorize the President to detain a United States citizen based on a determination that he is an enemy combatant, or is that power precluded by the Non-Detention Act?

Media for Rumsfeld v. Padilla

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 2004 in Rumsfeld v. Padilla

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2004 in Rumsfeld v. Padilla

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the court to announce in No. 03-1027, Rumsfeld v. Padilla.

In May 2002, respondent Padilla, an American citizen, was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

He had just returned from Pakistan where he allegedly conspired with al Qaeda to carry out terrorist attacks within the United States.

Padilla was held in federal custody in New York City in connection with the Southern District of New York’s grand jury investigation into the September 11th attacks.

On June 9th 2002, however, President Bush issued an order designating Padilla as an “enemy combatant” and directing Rumsfeld to take Padilla into military custody.

The Defense Department Personnel immediately took custody of Padilla and detained him at the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, where he has been held ever since.

Two days later, Padilla’s attorney filed a Section 2241 habeas petition on his behalf in the Southern District of New York, alleging that Padilla’s military detention violates the Constitution.

The District Court held that it had jurisdiction over the habeas petition not withstanding the absence of both Padilla and his immediate custodian from the Southern District.

On the merits that Court held that the President was authorized, both by the Constitution and statute to detain an enemy combatant, to detain as enemy combatants, American citizens captured on American soil during wartime.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the District Court’s jurisdictional holding, but concluded that the President lack the authority to militarily detained Padilla.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse.

We hold that the Southern District lack jurisdictional over Padilla’s habeas petition under the habeas statute Section 2241.

We therefore do not decide whether Padilla’s military detention is lawful. Section 2241(a) provides that District Courts may issue a habeas relief within their respective jurisdictions.

We hold that in habeas challenges to present physical confinement such as Padilla’s, jurisdiction is determined by two complimentary rules, the immediate custodian rule, and the district of confinement rule.

Under the immediate custodian rule, the proper respondent in Padilla’s challenge to his present physical confinement is his immediate custodian or the warden of the facility in which Padilla is detained.

In this case, that is Melanie Marr, the Commander of the Naval Brig in South Carolina.

The Court of Appeals mistakenly held that Secretary Rumsfeld is the proper respondent because he exercises what it called “legal control” over Padilla, but the habeas statute, established practice, and our precedent sall make clear that a supervisory official exercises legal control is not a proper respondent in challenges to present physical confinement.

Under the district of confinement rule, a habeas petitioner challenging his present physical confinement should file under district of his confinement, which is also the district in which his immediate custodian resides.

Braden v. 30th Judicial District and Strait v. Laird, on which the Court of Appeals mistakenly relied, did not involve challenges to present physical confinement, and thus do not aid the deal.

Finally, Ex parte Endo is an opposite, because there the government moved the habeas petitioner after, she properly filed a habeas petition in her district of confinement.

Padilla did not file his habeas petition until two days after he was moved to South Carolina.

Under the immediate custodian and district of confinement rules, Padilla should have filed his habeas petition that District of South of Carolina, not the Southern District of New York.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for at the entry of an ordered dismissal without prejudice.

Justice Kennedy has written a concurring opinion in which Justice O’Connor has joined.

John Paul Stevens:

I have filed a dissenting opinion that Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer have joined.

We agree that the location of the immediate custodian should determine the appropriate forum in the ordinary habeas corpus proceeding, and that prisoner should not be permitted to engage in forum shopping.

In our view however, this is an exceptional case that merits exceptional treatment.

The habeas corpus proceeding filed by respondent Padilla was in effect a continuation of proceedings initiated by the government, in the Southern District of New York.

That is the District where the government had obtained the material witness warrant that authorized respondent’s arrest, and where counsel had been appointed to represent it.

It was on a Sunday, two days before a scheduled hearing and the lawfulness of his detention that the government made an Ex parte application to vacate the material witness warrant and transfer respondent’s custody from the Justice Department to the Defense Department, and his appointed counsel had been given notice of that application.