Post Date: September 28, 2006

Led by Professor Martha Minow, more than 600 law professors nationwide have signed a letter urging Congress to reject pending legislation for trials of terror suspects in military tribunals. The legislation would also eliminate most judicial review of the conditions of detention for individuals labeled by the executive as enemy combatants.

The letter, submitted to Congress yesterday, asserts that the bill, if enacted, would undermine the fundamental principles of separation of powers, due process, habeas corpus and fair trials. “It would deal a body blow to American constitutional identity and American constitutional pride,” the professors wrote.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and opponent of the bill, cited the letter in a Senate floor debate yesterday.

The White House sought the legislation after the Supreme Court in June struck down the administration’s system for trying detainees. Yesterday, the House voted 253-168 to approve a compromise measure worked out last week between the White House and three Senate Republicans–John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina–who had been concerned that the president’s original proposal was unconstitutional and redefined the nations’ obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

The Senate is expected to approve the compromise measure as early as today, clearing the way for the president to sign it into law.

But in their letter, the law professors–including 30 HLS faculty members–said that even the compromise bill should be rejected, because it would rob detainees of fundamental protections provided by domestic and international law. The letter cites three main reasons for the professors’ opposition to the bill:

Several second- and third-year law students worked closely with Minow and Clinical Professor of Law James Cavallaro in drafting the letter, and others helped circulate it to law professors nationwide and among members of the senate. “The real story here,” said Minow, “is the students’ passion, energy, expertise, and accomplishment. In a very short time, they became real and effective participants in the national and legislative debate.”

The letter stated: “The compromise bill would weaken us as a people, not only abroad but at home. As scholars and teachers of law, we cannot in good conscience stand by while our vital legal traditions are at stake.”

A complete version of the letter to Congress is available here.