Judicial Review, Liability Rules, and the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863
A national security emergency justifying the elimination of full judicial review and remedies for executive action is often analyzed as an exceptional, distinctive challenge to the rule of law. However, the possibility of irreparable harm frequently supports bypassing judicial procedures in more pedestrian peacetime law, such as an exigent-circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement or a preliminary injunction to avoid irreparable harm before a trial on the merits. While the scale may be different in national security crises, the problem is the same: how to maintain the rule of law when the traditional procedures and remedial doctrines of a reviewing institution may be ill-suited for avoiding irreparable harm in the time required for judicial review.
This Note uses the immunity provisions of the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863—in which Congress explicitly eliminated legal remedies during the greatest national crisis of American history—to illuminate the broader principles behind the availability of judicial remedies in exigent circumstances. In “routine” exigencies, such as a request for a preliminary injunction or exceptions to the warrant requirement, a shortcut around full procedure for the determination of rights and duties is permitted subject to the availability of judicial review after the intervention, and, often, compensation. The immunity provisions of the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863 cut off both of these remedial functions. Such immunities defeat the compensation purpose of remedies unnecessarily; as remedies in “routine” emergency interventions demonstrate, the compensation and judicial review functions need not always result in deterrence of executive action in a crisis. Immunity provisions such as those in the Act also hinder the development of the law and increase uncertainty for future actors and their possible future victims, even outside emergency situations. This Note argues that the best approach to judicial review in national security crises is not to eliminate remedies entirely, as the Habeas Corpus Act attempted to do, but to “code-switch” from a regime of property rules to a regime of liability rules in order to preserve victim compensation and the rule of law.