Habeas Corpus : Historical Background

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Suspension of Habeas Corpus: Historical Background The government has often engaged in the suspension of habeas corpus in times of wars and insurrections. This practice is by no means new, and goes back as far as the Civil War. An analysis of this practice shows that it is, at best, a short term measure. In the recent past, the US Supreme Court took up this topic in the context of the war on terrorism, and their findings-and the analysis that support those findings-reinforces this position. Habeas corpus (Latin for “may you have the body”) is a component of English law that became one of the cornerstones of American law. The noted jurist and legal scholar William Blackstone, notes that the term habeas corpus was used in the early 1300s…show more content…
This clause, which has been the basis of much substantial debate, does not actually establish the right of habeas corpus. Instead, it prevents the U.S. Congress from restricting it (Binney 2004). The writ of habeas corpus was codified by statute in the United States with the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which applied exclusively to individuals in the custody of the Executive Branch of the government-it did not apply those held by the states. Ultimately, habeas corpus was implemented in the United States in 1867. As part of post-Civl War Reconstruction, the relevant statute, codified as 28 USC § 2254, explicitly granted the Federal court system the power to review a prisoner’s status, and, in accord with the original, historical, intent of habeas corpus, release them if the evidence against them is insufficient (Foner, 2002). The enactment of this statute can, of course, be seen as a reaction to certain events that took place during the Cvil War. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln obtained information o various plots to destroy the rail route connecting Philadelphia with Annapolis, which was a key supply line, and, as such, necessary to both the war effort and the stability of the nation’s industrial economy. Lincoln did not order a general suspension of habeas corpus. Instead, he suspended it with respect to the particular individuals allegedly involved in these plots.
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