“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” – The U.S. Constitution
At first glance, this clause may seem alarming. A writ of habeas corpus is the fancy way of saying that an individual, when serving a prison sentence, can appeal the legality of the process that led to their conviction.
Habeas comes from the latin “habeas or habere” meaning “to have” or “to hold” and corpus comes from “corporeal” meaning “of a material or physical nature, not mental or spiritual”.
Writ means “something written, piece of writing”. So, a writ of habeas corpus means to have or hold a person. More succinctly, “writ requiring a person to be brought before a court”.
The founders were very wary of the way the king would indefinitely imprison individuals with no recourse who had never seen a day in court. This, of course, the king did even though England had a version of a “writ of habeas corpus”. Thus, the founders made sure that our government could not indefinitely imprison Americans with no recourse or day in court.
Congress is given no power to violate this liberty aside from this one, small clause.
The founders conceded that, if there is a major rebellion (which was somewhat common in that day in time) or a major invasion on American soil, Congress could suspend the writ for the safety of the public but not indefinitely.
While I can spend more time on the details of how this suspension of the writ applies to these two very specific scenarios, explaining that is not the most critical point I want to make today.
The most important aspect of this clause is not what is says, but rather what it doesn’t say. In other words, the U.S. Constitution is one of the only Constitutions in the world that does not contain a provision or clause or reason to suspend the whole Constitution.
In fact, this uniqueness, that our Constitution does not have a provision for suspension, is highlighted in this habeas corpus clause, because this clause only allows from one right/liberty to be suspended under very specific circumstances, and this is the only suspension clause in the Constitution.
The founders were careful to leave out any other form of suspension because of the dire importance that the Constitution always be considered supreme and always confine government power, no matter the crisis.
Friends, please keep this truth in mind in the context of what we’re facing today. Never let the government try to fool you into believing that the Constitution, in the US, does not still continue to confine their power … even during a crisis.
Our founders were careful to avoid any chance of that happening, and therefore, so must we.
The Liberty Belle