INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 13 (2001)

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Cite as: 533 U. S. 289 (2001)

Opinion of the Court

Clause encompasses all cases covered by the 1867 Amendment extending the protection of the writ to state prisoners, cf. id., at 663-664, or by subsequent legal developments, see LaGuerre v. Reno, 164 F. 3d 1035 (CA7 1998), at the absolute minimum, the Suspension Clause protects the writ "as it existed in 1789." 13 Felker, 518 U. S., at 663-664.

At its historical core, the writ of habeas corpus has served as a means of reviewing the legality of Executive detention, and it is in that context that its protections have been strongest.14 See, e. g., Swain v. Pressley, 430 U. S. 372, 380, n. 13 (1977); id., at 385-386 (Burger, C. J., concurring) (noting that "the traditional Great Writ was largely a remedy against executive detention"); Brown v. Allen, 344 U. S. 443, 533 (1953) (Jackson, J., concurring in result) ("The historic purpose of the writ has been to relieve detention by executive authorities without judicial trial"). In England prior to 1789, in the Colonies,15 and in this Nation during the formative years of our Government, the writ of habeas corpus was available to nonenemy aliens as well as to citi-13 The fact that this Court would be required to answer the difficult question of what the Suspension Clause protects is in and of itself a reason to avoid answering the constitutional questions that would be raised by concluding that review was barred entirely. Cf. Neuman, Habeas Corpus, Executive Detention, and the Removal of Aliens, 98 Colum. L. Rev. 961, 980 (1998) (noting that "reconstructing habeas corpus law . . . [for purposes of a Suspension Clause analysis] would be a difficult enterprise, given fragmentary documentation, state-by-state disuniformity, and uncertainty about how state practices should be transferred to new national institutions").

14 At common law, "[w]hile habeas review of a court judgment was limited to the issue of the sentencing court's jurisdictional competency, an attack on an executive order could raise all issues relating to the legality of the detention." Note, Developments in the Law—Federal Habeas Corpus, 83 Harv. L. Rev. 1038, 1238 (1970).

15 See W. Duker, A Constitutional History of Habeas Corpus 115 (1980) (noting that "the common-law writ of habeas corpus was in operation in all thirteen of the British colonies that rebelled in 1776").


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