Today the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an important bill to restore habeas corpus, the sacrosanct Constitutional right to challenge government detention in court, by a vote of eleven to eight.
Habeas corpus was revoked by last year's Military Commissions Act, which has been assailed as unconstitutional and un-American by leaders across the political spectrum. Today's habeas bill was backed by the Judiciary Committee's Democratic Chairman, Patrick Leahy, and its Republican Ranking Member, Arlen Specter. "The drive to restore this fundamental right has come from both sides of the aisle," said Sharon Bradford, an attorney at the bipartisan Constitution Project, in response to today's vote. "Restoring America's commitment to the rule of law is not a partisan cause; it is a patriotic one," she added.
Today's vote means the habeas bill can now be brought to the Senate floor at any time. One source with knowledge of the legislative plan said Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to bringing the bill to a vote within the month.
Some Democrats are pushing Reid to go further, advocating more comprehensive human rights protections and a repeal of the entire Military Commissions Act. Senator Chris Dodd, the most aggressive defender of the Constitution in the presidential race, is pushing legislation that would not only restore habeas, but also ban the use of evidence obtained through torture and recommit the U.S. to the Geneva Conventions. "We must recognize that our security is enhanced by upholding our nation's historic legal principles as we vigorously pursue terrorists," he said in a statement today. Dodd is giving a major address about his proposal at the Cardozo School of Law Commencement exercises in New York on Thursday, part of a larger effort to prioritize Constitutional rights on the national agenda -- and in the presidential campaign. The Dodd Campaign has gathered over 10,000 "citizen cosponsors" for his bill, the Restoring the Constitution Act, while using YouTube, blog and netroots outreach to rally more support.
Obama, Clinton and Biden, the other Senators in the presidential race, have cosponsored the habeas legislation but not Dodd's bill, which currently has eleven cosponsors. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Armed Services Committee, a much less hospitable venue for Constitutional rights than the Judiciary Committee. But there is one influential Armed Services member who opposed the Military Commissions Act and could jump start the effort to restore Constitutional rights: Hillary Clinton.