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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Yaser Esam Hamdi and Esam Fouad Hamdi, as Next Friend of Yaser Esam Hamdi
Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al.
(argued the cause for Respondents)
(argued the cause for Petitioners)
Facts of the Case 

In the fall of 2001, Yaser Hamdi, an American citizen, was arrested by the United States military in Afghanistan. He was accused of fighting for the Taliban against the U.S., declared an "enemy combatant," and transfered to a military prison in Virginia. Frank Dunham, Jr., a defense attorney in Virginia, filed a habeas corpus petition in federal district court there, first on his own and then for Hamdi's father, in an attempt to have Hamdi's detention declared unconstitutional. He argued that the government had violated Hamdi's Fifth Amendment right to Due Process by holding him indefinitely and not giving him access to an attorney or a trial. The government countered that the Executive Branch had the right, during wartime, to declare people who fight against the United States "enemy combatants" and thus restrict their access to the court system.

The district court ruled for Hamdi, telling the government to release him. On appeal, a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed, finding that the separation of powers required federal courts to practice restraint during wartime because "the executive and legislative branches are organized to supervise the conduct of overseas conflict in a way that the judiciary simply is not." The panel therefore found that it should defer to the Executive Branch's "enemy combatant" determination.


Did the government violate Hamdi's Fifth Amendment right to Due Process by holding him indefinitely, without access to an attorney, based solely on an Executive Branch declaration that he was an "enemy combatant" who fought against the United States? Does the separation of powers doctrine require federal courts to defer to Executive Branch determinations that an American citizen is an "enemy combatant"?

Decision: 6 votes for Hamdi, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

Yes and no. In an opinion backed by a four-justice plurality and partly joined by two additional justices, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that although Congress authorized Hamdi's detention, Fifth Amendment due process guarantees give a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant the right to contest that detention before a neutral decisionmaker. The plurality rejected the government's argument that the separation-of-powers prevents the judiciary from hearing Hamdi's challenge. Justice David H. Souter, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurred with the plurality that Hamdi had the right to challenge in court his status as an enemy combatant. Souter and Ginsburg, however, disagreed with the plurality's view that Congress authorized Hamdi's detention. Justice Antonin Scalia issued a dissent joined by Justice John Paul Stevens. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented separately.

Cite this Page
HAMDI v. RUMSFELD. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 28 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_6696>.
HAMDI v. RUMSFELD, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_6696 (last visited August 28, 2015).
"HAMDI v. RUMSFELD," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 28, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_6696.