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AMUER v. GATES, NO. 13-2011

Decided: May 13, 2014

The Fourth Circuit held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), did not strike down 28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(2), and that § 2241(e)(2) was severable from § 2241(e)(1), which was struck down in Boumediene.

Amuer was detained as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay before being released to his native country after an administrative review board determined that he was no longer a threat. Amuer sought compensatory damages against U.S. officials involved in his detention under the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350; the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb-bb-4; and the United States Constitution for alleged abuses during his detention by the United States. The district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (“MCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(2).

With the exception of habeas corpus petitions, § 2241(e)(2) of the MCA strips all courts of jurisdiction to hear any claims by formerly detained enemy combatants on the conditions of the enemy combatant’s detention by the United States. After determining that Amuer’s claims fell within the plain language of the MCA statute, the Fourth Circuit considered the constitutionality of § 2241(e)(2) after Boumediene. In Boumediene, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a different section of the MCA unconstitutional because it forbid judicial review over habeas corpus petitions of enemy combatants detained at Guantanamo Bay. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(e)(1). The Fourth Circuit reasoned that Boumediene did not expressly strike down this applicable provision, § 2241(e)(2), because the U.S. Supreme Court only considered § 2241(e)(1). The Court further reasoned that “§ 2241(e)(2) lacks any nexus” to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Boumediene because § 2241(e)(2) “does not limit, discuss, relate to, or otherwise touch upon [§ 2241(e)(1)].”

The Court then considered the severability of § 2241(e)(2) from the distinct statutory section considered in Boumediene, and stated that § 2241(e)(2) would be non-severable from § 2241(e)(1) in one of three limited circumstances: (1) the provision is unconstitutional; (2) the provision is incapable of “functioning independently;” or (3) the separate existence of the provision would be inconsistent with “Congress’ basic objectives in enacting the statute.” United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 258–59 (2005).

Addressing the first circumstance for severability, the Fourth Circuit provided four reasons for the constitutionality of § 2241(e)(2). First, § 2241(e)(2) is constitutional because the Supreme Court has not required judicial review of cases involving only compensatory damages on multiple occasions, even in cases where money damages are the plaintiff’s only means of recovery. Second, Congress did not violate the separation of powers doctrine by dictating how a court must decide an issue of fact, or by binding the Court to a rule that is independently unconstitutional. Third, courts should apply a rational basis standard of review because nationality is not a suspect class that requires a higher standard of review. The Court then determined that § 2241(e)(2) survived rational basis review because it “limit[ed] court interference in our nation’s war on terror[,]” and granted a high level of deference to Congress to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens. The Court further reasoned that Congress may have rationally concluded that courts are ill equipped to deal with matters involving foreign relations, immigration, or military affairs in cases concerning non-citizen combatants. Finally, the Court determined that § 2241(e)(2) was not a bill of attainder under three tests: the “historical” test, contemplating the traditional ways the legislature has chosen to mete out punishment; the “functional” test, regarding the reasons for the bill; and the “motivational” test, considering the legislature’s actual motives. Under these three tests, the Court concluded that this statute was not a bill of attainder because there were: no historical examples of limits on jurisdiction as a punishment; legislative purposes for the statute beyond punishment; and no punitive motivations in the legislative history. Furthermore, the Court observed that the statute did not restrict jurisdiction for any specific or named person or group.

The Court, in deciding whether the provision was capable of functioning independently, held that § 2241(e)(2) did function independently from § 2241(e)(1). The Court noted that the applicable statute in this case, § 2241(e)(2), was still constitutional despite: cross-references the MCA section struck down in Boumediene, § 2241(e)(1); the necessity of § 2241(e)(1) to understand the language of § 2241(e)(2); and the Government’s change in terminology from “enemy combatant” to “unprivileged enemy belligerent.”

The Fourth Circuit also concluded that § 2241(e)(2) was consistent with Congress’ basic objective in enacting the MCA. The Court reasoned that the congressional purpose of § 2241(e)(2) was to limit judicial review of enemy combatants, and, therefore, the expansion of judicial review to habeas corpus petitions in Boumediene did not change Congress’ ability to achieve its objective under § 2241(e)(2). In reviewing the legislative history, the Court found no evidence of Congressional intent that § 2241(e)(2) should be non-severable from § 2241(e)(1). Also, the Court did not consider congressional inaction after Boumediene, or the absence of a severability clause, to be dispositive of congressional intent that § 2241(e)(2) and the statute in Boumediene were non-severable.

Full Opinion

Verona Sheleena Rios