Detainee Case Will Pose Delicate Question for Court

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The Supreme Court's announcement four months ago that it would rule on the validity of the military commission by which the Bush administration wants to try Osama bin Laden's former driver, on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, appeared to mark a resumption of a struggle for supremacy between the court and the White House.

In the face of a measure that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in late December to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over cases brought by detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where Mr. Hamdan has been held since 2002, the court must decide whether it retains the right to proceed with this case at all.

For a court that has been highly protective of its own prerogatives, but at the same time notably attentive to the often arcane limits on federal court jurisdiction, the question is one of great delicacy, infused with historical resonance. Not since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, in a case that arose from the power struggles of the Reconstruction era, has the Supreme Court permitted Congress to divest it of jurisdiction over a case it has already agreed to decide.

In that case, Ex Parte McCardle, the court had already heard four days of argument in an appeal brought by a rabble-rousing Mississippi newspaper editor who had been taken into custody and charged by the military government with fomenting insurrection.

Fearful that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the editor, William H. McCardle, could result in invalidating military control of the former Confederate states, Congress enacted a law over President Andrew Johnson's veto to deprive the court of jurisdiction. The court then dismissed the appeal, rejecting the argument by McCardle's lawyer that it was permitting Congress to usurp the judicial function.

In the new case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, No. 05-184, the Bush administration filed a motion with the court in early January, days after the Detainee Treatment Act was signed into law, urging immediate dismissal of Mr. Hamdan's appeal.

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