By: MARK COLLETTE, Staff Writer Tyler Morning Telegraph, Tyler Texas

The new dean of the University of Texas School of Law, a constitutional law expert, told a Tyler audience Monday that the role of U.S. courts against the backdrop of war and terrorism will dominate legal scholarship and the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Lawrence Sager said those issues will define the court under Chief Justice John Roberts.

Prior to Roberts’ confirmation, the court, including the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, ruled 6-3 against the Bush administration, saying both U.S. citizens and foreigners accused of terrorism can challenge their treatment in U.S. courts – even while being held in a Navy prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the court has “made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

That’s a good thing, Sager said, speaking at The University of Texas at Tyler.

“The court didn’t say to Mr. Hamdi (one of the detainees), ‘How many votes do you represent? … How many dollars rode into court with you?’” Sager noted.

He said courts should continue in their role as umpires – even when national security is at stake – because by their nature they are prone to fairness; they appeal to careful, well-established reason and precedent while acknowledging how their rulings may affect unrelated cases in the future; and they are a place where any person can appeal for justice.

“In some ways, the American judiciary and Supreme Court and Roberts court have been asked to answer questions as basic as, ‘Is the Constitution for bad times as well as good?’” Sager said.

Meanwhile, law schools have to keep up with and even predict the issues that will dominate the courts. Sager said that’s partly why the UT law school has established a “Guantanamo Bay” clinic, where students and legal scholars will wrestle with problems along the lines of those raised by the Hamdi case.

He said he hopes students at law schools everywhere will graduate with an understanding of why courts have an integral role in applying justice – even when there are direct threats to national security.

“What we do every day at the UT School of Law and at any good school of law is … to admire and abide by the rule of law, its judicial enforcement, and to abide by the Constitution,” he said. “That’s something I hope every student leaves UT with.”

Louisiana native Yaser Hamdi was released in 2004 after the Supreme Court’s ruling and after the Justice Department said he no longer posed a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value. Hamdi, who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2001, gave up his American citizenship and returned to his family in Saudi Arabia as conditions of his release.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.

Mark Collette covers Smith County. He can be reached at 903.596.6303. e-mail: news@tylerpaper.com


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