More Habeas Politics
by Matt Stoller, Wed May 09, 2007 at 06:40:21 PM EDT
I'll have more on what's going on with habeas in the morning after talking to a few sources. The caucus is a bit chaotic, with important votes on Iraq coming through shortly. The issue with the Department of Defense Authorization bill is fairly interesting. Basically, a stand-alone habeas restoration bill has a low probability of passing, because the Military Commissions Act had only 170 no votes. Like a withdrawal timeline, the only way to get habeas restored is to attach it to a larger legislative vehicle like the DoD Authorization bill.
Chairman Ike Skelton and some combination of Majority Leader Hoyer and Speaker Pelosi decided not to attach the habeas restoration in the bill coming before the Armed Services Committee. It could still be put into the bill as an amendment in committee, or as an amendment on the floor. Both of these scenarios are very unlikely, and lobbyists and insiders in the civil liberties community are not particularly happy. Marty Meehan apparently wanted to bring up a habeas amendment in committee, but Skelton blocked him by having Conyers not waive Judiciary's jurisdiction. I've heard conflicting reason's for Skelton's choice. There's perceived worry for freshmen who have to take a tough vote on habeas, but there's also a feeling that some Blue Dogs and some progressives would bolt on the DoD bill if it had habeas in it, which would mean the bill would lose. Neither of these explanations quite makes sense, for reasons I'll explain.
It's important to realize that Pelosi has promised to get behind a separate bill from the Judiciary Committee restoring habeas, the Nadler bill. Again, this is a stand-alone bill, which makes it harder to move than a legislative vehicle that has to pass to keep the DoD running. If Pelosi is keeping her word, then the idea that keeping habeas out of the authorization bill so freshmen wouldn't have to take a tough vote doesn't make sense. They'll have to take a tough vote, just on a stand-alone bill instead of this bigger bill. And if they are going to do a stand-alone bill, why not just do an amendment on the floor restoring habeas attached to the DoD authorization? This would make it much more likely to be passed by the Senate. No, clearly Pelosi and leadership are just not putting a high priority on moving a restoration of habeas at this moment.
In working through this habeas fight, I'm struck by the disconnect between the insiders and the organizing. Typically, messaging has to be consistent on both the outside and the inside to be effective, since it's good for representatives to hear the same message from lobbyists, constituents, and donors. But that's clearly not happening here. For instance, this ACLU site is the stupidest action center I've ever seen. It's literally about a cartoon character named 'Habeas' who went missing last year. Can YOU find him? This kind of messaging is patronizing and idiotic, treating supporters of civil rights as if we are children. I doubt very much that this is the messaging being used internally in lobbying members.
There's a lot of talent lobbying and pushing for a restoration of habeas, it's literally the founding tenet of a variety of progressive groups. It's important to recognize that this is the first of what will be many salvos over the coming weeks, months, and possibly years. Bush will obviously veto whatever he doesn't like, and that probably includes habeas corpus. The key is to push at times they don't expect, and let both the insiders who are lobbying know that they have a large body of citizens behind them, and the Democratic leaders know that they have a job to do and they better do it.
Keep calling. I'm going to do more research tomorrow. There will be a habeas bill coming through the House this cycle, and it's important they know that we expect it to come sooner rather than later. Here's the roll call for the Military Commissions Act vote. If any amateur vote-counters want to speculate in the comments how many votes they think we have, count away.
UPDATE: SteveM has an interesting thought in the comments: "I want a stand-alone bill. History and the Constitution are on the line here. I want people to have to go on record with habeas and only habeas being the issue. If there aren't enough votes to restore this basic right, then so be it. Let's at least find out where the Republic stands."