WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration said yesterday it plans to rush an appeal in the case of a US-born terrorism suspect so that the Supreme Court can decide by summer whether the government may hold US citizens indefinitely and without charges.
The administration wants the high court to quickly hear the case of Jose Padilla, a former gang member and convert to Islam who was arrested in Chicago in May 2002 in connection with an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb."
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that President Bush does not have the authority to declare Padilla an enemy combatant and hold him in open-ended military custody.
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave the government 30 days to release Padilla. The administration had promised an appeal. It said it will also ask that the appeals court ruling be put on hold.
The administration's top Supreme Court lawyer went a step further yesterday by notifying the Supreme Court that it will file an appeal there by Jan. 20, in time for the court to squeeze the case onto its calendar for the final session of scheduled oral arguments in April.
The lower court ruling "undermines the president's constitutional authority to protect the nation from additional enemy attacks in wartime," Solicitor General Theodore Olson told the justices in a court filing.
Olson called the order to release Padilla unprecedented and warned that the president, as commander in chief, had determined that Padilla "is an enemy combatant intent on committing hostile and warlike acts against the United States."
Ordinarily, the government would have weeks or months beyond Jan. 20 to file its Supreme Court appeal. But the court's calendar is nearly full, so the government wants to get the paperwork in early.
Filing any later would probably mean the high court could not consider the case until its next term, which begins in October.