U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, second paragraph:
The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
Senate Bill 3930 (passed on Thursday, the House has already passed essentially the same bill:
SEC. 6. HABEAS CORPUS MATTERS.
(a) In General- Section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, is amended—
(1) by striking subsection (e) (as added by section 1005(e)(1) of Public Law 109-148 (119 Stat. 2742)) and by striking subsection (e) (as added by added by section 1405(e)(1) of Public Law 109-163 (119 Stat. 3477)); and
(2) by adding at the end the following new subsection:
`(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who—
`(A) is currently in United States custody; and
`(B) has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
Yes, it is a big deal. The writ of habeas corpus is abolished for non-citizens who have been determined by the president (or his agents) to either be an enemy combatant, or who are awaiting that determination.
No, I don't think we have a rebellion or an invasion right now within our borders. But the legislation does not limit itself to outside our borders.
The U.S. Supreme Court determined a long time ago that the writ of habeas corpus cannot be suspended in areas in which the civil Federal Courts are open. Ex Parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2, 140 (1866).
"We by no means assert that Congress can establish and apply the laws of war where no war has been declared or exists.
Where peace exists the laws of peace must prevail. What we do maintain is, that when the nation is involved in war, and some portions of the country are invaded, and all are exposed to invasion, it is within the power of Congress to determine in what states or district such great and imminent public danger exists as justifies the authorization of military tribunals for the trial of crimes and offences against the discipline or security of the army or against the public safety." Id. at 140.
So the Milligan Court recognized that military tribunals could be authorized by Congress, but only when there is an invasion within our borders and a declared war (or a rebellion, as the Court called the War Between the States). We don't have any of those within our borders now.
But, as of the end of this week, we will have the suspension of the Great Writ for aliens (including legal aliens) throughout the land. All it takes to lock such a person up is for him to have been "determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination." In other words, if the President says you are awaiting determination, you can be locked up and you don't get to ask a court for review.
One other thing to note: the protections of the Constitution, including due process and habeas corpus, have consistently applied to all "persons", not just U.S. citizens, found within our borders. (The distinctions between citizens and non-citizen residents show up in some cases, like immigration, which the Constitution expressly allows for Congress to regulate.) This means that no conceptual or legal difficulty exists to prevent the law from being extended to citizens sometime in the future.
Welcome to the future. It doesn't seem so bad yet. Incrementalism works well on lobsters and sleepy people. The temperature of our country just went up another degree or two.