Historical Evolution of Habeas Corpus, Suspension and Relevance

Habeas corpus is a common rule that originated in English law and has become the cornerstone of the US Constitution. In English, it means “you shall have the body,” because under this rule, people have the right to defend themselves when brought to trial or imprisoned. It performs the function of the preventive measure before the law, enabling people to declare the nature of the breach of the law against their detention and challenge it to a court. The gradual historical evolution, constitutional importance, and relevance of habeas corpus in the present US society position this right at the center of powerful protection of civil liberties, even during national security threats. A deeper understanding of the nature of this balance can be obtained by analyzing the origins and suspension of the Bill of Rights during critical times, the Supreme Court’s ruling on its interpretation, and the war on terror. All these perspectives acknowledge the complexity of the interaction between governmental powers and individual rights, thus emphasizing the necessity of aiming for a delicate balance between the imperative of security and the principles of the legislation. The Habeas Corpus Act aimed to protect citizens’ rights by outlawing their unwarranted, indefinite imprisonment. Due to its protection of individuals’ rights, the Act rose to prominence in English history.

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Historical Evolution of Habeas Corpus

The English tradition version of the Habeas Corpus goes back to the origin of the origin of the English legal system, where it developed as nothing less than a procedure to challenge an unscrupulous monarch’s power without authority. The basis of Habeas Corpus, entrenched as an act in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 during the regime of Charles II, interdicts unlawful detention and apprehension by requiring the authorities to give their justifications to a judge before they do anything. A person may not be detained in lawful custody without a court or judge considering the legality of such detention, as dictated by Habeas Corpus. Habeas corpus is brought forth through a “writ of Habeas corpus, which is an order from the court that holds that the person who is held captive should be brought before the court for his or her justification of the detention.

In the American tradition of the Habeas Corpus, the US Constitution acknowledges it as the right to preserve a person’s liberty from governmental authority. Judge Roger Taney’s statement in the United States Supreme Court decision, Ex parte Merryman (1861), confirmed the role of habeas corpus in the American legal system by affirming the judiciary’s power to review the legality of a person’s detention. According to US law, habeas corpus can be ordered where an incarcerated individual is locked up by a state or federal statute to challenge their confinement, referring to alleged constitutional rights infringement and other cases where they might argue there is no justification for the arrest. Today, the question of putting habeas corpus into practice comes up in connection with the anti-terrorism operation, the custody of enemy combatants, and the exclusion of persons detained at Guantanamo Naval Station, allowing us to estimate that this legal idea remains one of the most crucial issues.

Suspension of Habeas Corpus in U.S. History

All throughout American history, habeas corpus became suspended during national crisis periods, frequently due to fears for people’s safety and security. For instance, one of the most outstanding times at which the citizens of the United States suffered from Habeas Corpus suspension was during the Civil War between 1861 and 1865. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation of Amendment authorizing the suspension of Habeas corpus in areas where armed resistance against the Union is considered perilous. The action resulted in the arrests and detention of individuals suspected of disloyalty to the Union without giving them a possibility to challenge their small confinements through the Habeas corpus. For example, the case of a Maryland citizen arrested and illegally imprisoned by Northern forces became a testament to the suspension of Habeas corpus as a way of ensuring prisoners’ rights adherence. Therefore, the argument of the Chief Justice, Roger Taney, in the Ex parte Merryman case declared the existence of the judiciary authority to investigate the legality of a person’s confinement, which went beyond the scope of law allowing presidential suspension of habeas corpus. Subsequently, in 1867, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act, reviving the right of individuals to obtain a writ of Habeas corpus from federal judges, which hence re-established Habeas corpus termination subsequent to the war. With the beginning of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed So-Called Executive Order 9066, leading to the internment of Japanese Americans in camps. While it actually did not correspond to a halt in Habeas corpus, it involved people in the situation without the privileges of due process or the possibility of contesting their detention by Habeas corpus. After the 9/11 2001 terrorist attacks, the government of the USA took some actions and legislation, such as the USA Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay detention, and many more, that generated concerns for human rights abuses by enemy combatants or terrorist suspects.

The importance of Habeas Corpus in the War on Terror

During the contemporary speech of the war on terror, habeas corpus was a matter of intense dispute, including the captivity and treatment of individuals. This war on terror has been effective since the 9/11 attacks. Among other reasons, the 9/11 tragedy led to the apprehension and detention of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism or who were enemy combatants. This evoked serious debates over the utilization of Habeas corpus law and the liberty borne by detainees to determine the legitimacy of their imprisonment. The formation of the detention center in Guantanamo became a focal point of the disputes concerning the non-compliance of detainees with the Habeas corpus law.

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The holding of people at Guantanamo Bay without charging them or giving them trial is the legal issue on which the court and moral debates are based and center on addressing the matter of due process or the possibility of seeking Habeas corpus remedy as a right. The U.S. policy regarding the war on terror comprised legal and executive actions, including the USA Patriot Act, which was put in the courts of military jurisdiction, and such actions progressively raised questions about the denial of Habeas corpus rights for individuals defined as enemy combatants. It was the U.S. Supreme Court that had a very prominent involvement in upholding the legal applications of Habeas corpus in the War on Terror through its significant rulings. The Court addressed this right in Rasul v. Bush (2004) and Boumediene v. Bush (2008). In these cases, the Court had found the right of Guantanamo detainees to seek Habeas corpus review of their detention in federal courts. Those decisions had affirmed the possibility of the applicability of Habeas corpus protections.

U.S. Supreme Court interpretation

This Supreme Court is very powerful in its reading of the right of habeas corpus in the context of enemy combatants. In the case of Boumediene v. Bush (2008), the Court ruled on the grounds of habeas corpus, where detainees at Guantanamo Bay could claim their constitutional right to a trial and could challenge their detention in federal court. The tribunal’s judgment, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, emphasized that habeas corpus was crucial within inalienable rights and liberties, which is the key to preventing impropriety on the part of the administration. Opposing justices, with Chief Justice John Roberts as their leader, believed that the majorities’ decision infringed on presidentially asserted war powers and was more likely to be a security setback.

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Rasul v. Bush (2004) was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court had its say and opined that federal courts have the power to hear habeas corpus petitions from foreign nationals who are detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Complex. The case further extended the application of Habeas corpus protections to the non-citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay as well, affirming that the inmates have a fundamental right to go to court to question their confinement. The case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) took place in two phases. First there was the trial of Hamid, who was declared an enemy combatant in 2004, and then the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case was about the right of the American citizen to not be treated as an enemy combatant. The Court acknowledges that no matter whether an American is detained as an enemy combatant or not, the Constitution still retains its place in ensuring that the individual has access to due process and has the opportunity to challenge his or her detention through Habeas corpus, reaffirming thus the critical role played by this judicial remedy in protecting the basic rights of an individual.

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Evaluation of Perspectives

In addition to different perspectives, there are the legal frameworks of habeas corpus regarding national security. The president, as Commander-in-Chief, preserves the authority to detain enemy combatants without properly being titled or having the legal rights they are to be supplied with in order to prioritize the interests of the country, especially during a security crisis. Congress also has an all-important role in deciding in which circumstances the principle of habeas corpus may be discontinued in order to find the right balance. The Supreme Court acts as the protector of civil liberties through the ruling of any habeas corpus rights to make sure all the processes and judicial examination of any actions by the executive confirm the law of the land. In my view, the Habeas Corpus Act was designed to safeguard citizens’ rights by prohibiting their unjustified, indefinite incarceration. Therefore, limitations on habeas corpus rights in specific situations, such as during emergencies or in matters pertaining to national security, should be reconsidered.


Habeas corpus, a principle that is not only very ancient but also the foundation of justice, promotes variability and inequity in administration in fighting against incarceration without evidence and overreaching of the authorities. Its act of staying during times of crises and interpretation by the judiciary show how civil liberties and national security are in a delicate balance. In this regard, core constitutional values and community security have to be balanced with attempts to not breach the sacredness of the rule of law and the freedoms that we cherish as a society.

This paper covers the questions below

  • Explain the historical evolution of habeas corpus, including its English and American traditions. The explanation of its evolution within the American tradition should include the general meaning of the right of habeas corpus in the U.S. Constitution and its relationship to the protection of other civil liberties.
  • Provide examples from U.S. history of the suspension of habeas corpus and their applicability to the present.
  • Analyze the relevance of habeas corpus to the contemporary U.S. situation during the war on terror, especially with respect to persons characterized by as enemy combatants or illegal combatants.
  • Explain the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the right of habeas corpus with respect to enemy combatants or illegal combatants (i.e., the views of the five justices making up the majority inBoumediene v. Bush as well as the views of the four dissenting justices).
  • Evaluate a minimum of four perspectives on this topic expressed by justices of the Supreme Court, leaders in other branches of government, and commentators in both the academic and popular media. Your evaluation should consider perspectives on the following topics as they relate to habeas corpus:
    1. The role of the President as Commander-in-Chief.
    2. The role of Congress in determining when habeas corpus can be suspended.
    3. The role of the Supreme Court in protecting civil liberties, including the judicial philosophy which should guide the Court in this role, and
    4. In your evaluation, you should also include your personal philosophy, values, or ideology about the balance between civil liberties and national security in the context of an unending war on terror.

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