INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 15 (2001)

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

Opinion of the Court

volving Executive detention was only available for constitutional error.23

Notwithstanding the historical use of habeas corpus to remedy unlawful Executive action, the INS argues that this case falls outside the traditional scope of the writ at common law. It acknowledges that the writ protected an individual who was held without legal authority, but argues that the writ would not issue where "an official had statutory authorization to detain the individual . . . but . . . the official was not properly exercising his discretionary power to determine whether the individual should be released." Brief for Respondent in Colcano-Martinez v. INS, O. T. 2000, No. 00-1011, p. 33. In this case, the INS points out, there is no dispute that the INS had authority in law to hold St. Cyr, as he is eligible for removal. St. Cyr counters that there is historical evidence of the writ issuing to redress the

23 See, e. g., Ex parte Boggin, 13 East 549, n. (b), 104 Eng. Rep. 484, n. (a)2 (K. B. 1811) (referring to Chalacombe's Case, in which the court required a response from the Admiralty in a case involving the impressment of a master of a coal vessel, despite the argument that exemptions for "sea-faring persons of this description" were given only as a matter of "grace and favour," not "of right"); Hollingshead's Case, 1 Salkeld 351, 91 Eng. Rep. 307 (K. B. 1702) (granting relief on the grounds that the language of the warrant of commitment—authorizing detention until "otherwise discharged by due course of law"—exceeded the authority granted under the statute to commit "till [the bankrupt] submit himself to be examined by the commissioners"); see also Brief for Legal Historians as Amici Curiae 8-10, 18-28.

The dissent, however, relies on Chalacombe's Case as its sole support for the proposition that courts treated Executive discretion as "lying entirely beyond the judicial ken." See post, at 343 (opinion of Scalia, J.). Although Lord Ellenborough expressed "some hesitation" as to whether the case should "stand over for the consideration of the Admiralty," he concluded that, given the public importance of the question, the response should be called for. 13 East, at 549, n. (b), 104 Eng. Rep., at 484, n. (a)2.

The case ultimately became moot when the Admiralty discharged Chalacombe, but it is significant that, despite some initial hesitation, the court decided to proceed.


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