PS: Political Science & Politics


The Legacy of the Magna Carta in Recent Supreme Court Decisions on Detainees' Rights

Robert Pallittoa1

a1 Seton Hall University

The legacy of the Magna Carta is apparent in the Supreme Court's recent decisions regarding detainees' rights. Asked to evaluate strong claims of executive power, the Court has had occasion to consider the origin and scope of habeas corpus, which many scholars see as a product of the Magna Carta. The majority opinion in Boumediene v. Bush (2008) traced the history of the writ of habeas corpus back to the Magna Carta and relied on that lineage to rule that Guantanamo detainees were entitled to petition for habeas corpus, even though Congress had explicitly denied them that right in the 2006 Military Commissions Act (MCA) and the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act (DTA).

Robert Pallitto is an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University and a former trial attorney. He is co-author, with William Weaver, of Presidential Secrecy and the Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), and he is currently working on a book about the history of torture in the United States. He can be reached at