Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtROGERS, Circuit Judge
Citation792 F.3d 1
Docket NumberNo. 11–1324.
Decision Date12 June 2015
PartiesAli Hamza Ahmad Suliman AL BAHLUL, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.

792 F.3d 1

Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman AL BAHLUL, Petitioner
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.

No. 11–1324.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued Oct. 22, 2014.
Decided June 12, 2015.


Michel Paradis, Counsel, Office of the Chief Defense Counsel, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Mary R. McCormick, Counsel, and Major Todd E. Pierce, JA, U.S. Army (Ret.).

Jeffrey T. Renz was on the brief for amici curiae First Amendment Scholars and Historians and The Montana Pardon Project in support of petitioner.

Agnieszka M. Fryszman was on the brief for National Institute of Military Justice as amicus curiae in support of petitioner.

McKenzie A. Livingston was on the brief for amici curiae Robert D. Steele and other former members of the Intelligence Community in support of petitioner.

Robert Barton and Thomas J. McIntosh were on the brief for amicus curiae Professor David W. Glazier in support of petitioner.

Jonathan Hafetz was on the brief for amici curiae Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, et al., in support of petitioner.

John F. De Pue, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Steven M. Dunne, Chief, Appellate Unit,

792 F.3d 3

and Joseph Palmer, Attorney. Francis A. Gilligan, Office of Military Commission, Lisa O. Moreno and Jeffrey M. Smith, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, entered appearances.

James A. Schoettler Jr. was on the brief for amici curiae Former Government Officials, et al., in support of respondent.

Before: HENDERSON, ROGERS, and TATEL, Circuit Judges.

Opinion

Opinion for the Court by Circuit Judge ROGERS.

Concurring opinion by Circuit Judge TATEL.

Dissenting opinion by Circuit Judge HENDERSON.

ROGERS, Circuit Judge:

Pursuant to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, 10 U.S.C. §§ 948a et seq. (“2006 MCA”), a law of war military commission convened at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul guilty of material support for terrorism, solicitation of others to commit war crimes, and inchoate conspiracy to commit war crimes. The court, sitting en banc, vacated Bahlul's convictions for material support and solicitation as violative of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution, see Bahlul v. United States, 767 F.3d 1 (D.C.Cir.2014), and remanded Bahlul's remaining challenges to his conspiracy conviction to the original panel, see id. at 31. Bahlul contends that his inchoate conspiracy conviction must be vacated because: (1) Congress exceeded its authority under Article I, § 8 of the Constitution by defining crimes triable by military commission that are not offenses under the international law of war; (2) Congress violated Article III of the Constitution by vesting military commissions with jurisdiction to try crimes that are not offenses under the international law of war; (3) the government put his thoughts, beliefs, and ideas on trial in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution; and (4) the 2006 MCA discriminates against aliens in violation of the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Because Bahlul's challenges include a structural objection under Article III that cannot be forfeited, see Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833, 850–51, 106 S.Ct. 3245, 92 L.Ed.2d 675 (1986), we review that challenge de novo, and we conclude, for the following reasons, that his conviction for inchoate conspiracy must be vacated.

I.

Bahlul contends that the jurisdiction of law of war military commissions is, under the Constitution, limited to offenses under the international law of war, and thus that Congress has encroached upon the Article III judicial power by authorizing Executive Branch tribunals to try the purely domestic crime of inchoate conspiracy. As a threshold matter, the government maintains that Bahlul has forfeited the Article III challenge, having failed to raise the argument at his trial before the military commission. Bahlul's challenge, however, presents a structural violation of Article III and is not waivable or forfeitable.

The Supreme Court held in Schor that an Article III structural claim of encroachment on the judicial power was not subject to waiver. Id. at 850–51, 106 S.Ct. 3245. The Court explained that “Article III, § 1, not only preserves to litigants their interest in an impartial and independent federal adjudication of claims within the judicial power of the United States, but also serves as an inseparable element of the constitutional system of checks and balances.”

792 F.3d 4

Id. at 850, 106 S.Ct. 3245 (internal quotation marks omitted). Further, the Court explained, it “safeguards the role of the Judicial Branch in our tripartite system by barring congressional attempts to transfer jurisdiction to non-Article III tribunals for the purpose of emasculating constitutional courts, and thereby prevent[s] ‘the encroachment or aggrandizement of one branch at the expense of the other.’ ” Id. (quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 122, 96 S.Ct. 612, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976) ) (alterations and some internal quotation marks omitted). The Court held:

To the extent that this structural principle is implicated in a given case, the parties cannot by consent cure the constitutional difficulty for the same reason that the parties by consent cannot confer on federal courts subject-matter jurisdiction beyond the limitations imposed by Article III, § 2. When these Article III limitations are at issue, notions of consent and waiver cannot be dispositive because the limitations serve institutional interests that the parties cannot be expected to protect.

Id. at 850–51, 106 S.Ct. 3245 (internal citation omitted). As a result, even though Schor had consented to adjudication of his state-law claim by an Article I tribunal, see id. at 849–50, 106 S.Ct. 3245, the Supreme Court analyzed his structural challenge de novo, see id. at 851–57, 106 S.Ct. 3245.

The Court reaffirmed Schor 's analysis in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995), explaining that it was consistent with a rule that although res judicata claims were waivable, courts had discretion to excuse the waiver. See id. at 231–32, 115 S.Ct. 1447. Accordingly, this court, as well as every other circuit court to address the issue, has held that under Schor a party “could not ... waive his ‘structural’ claim” under Article III. Kuretski v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue Serv., 755 F.3d 929, 937 (D.C.Cir.2014) (emphasis added); see In re BP RE, L.P., 735 F.3d 279, 287–90 (5th Cir.2013) ; Wellness Int'l Network, Ltd. v. Sharif, 727 F.3d 751, 769 (7th Cir.2013) (rev'd on other grounds ); Waldman v. Stone, 698 F.3d 910, 917–18 (6th Cir.2012). Most recently, in Wellness International Network, Ltd. v. Sharif, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 1932, 191 L.Ed.2d 911 (2015), the Supreme Court again confirmed that “Schor forbids [ ] using consent to excuse an actual violation of Article III.” Id., 135 S.Ct. at 1945 n. 10 ; see id. at 1942–43, 1943–44 ; accord id. at 1956 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting).

Of course, the issue before us is not waiver but forfeiture. See generally United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 733–34, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993). The Supreme Court's analysis of waiver in Schor applies to forfeiture as well. There, the Court rejected waiver of Article III § 1 claims “for the same reason” that parties cannot waive Article III § 2 jurisdictional limitations, 478 U.S. at 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245, which are not subject to forfeiture, see United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630, 122 S.Ct. 1781, 152 L.Ed.2d 860 (2002). The Court cited United States v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 226, 229, 58 S.Ct. 601, 82 L.Ed. 764 (1938), where it had addressed de novo a subject-matter jurisdiction challenge that the defendants had failed to raise in the district court. In Schor, the Court explained that the analogy stems from the fact that both “Article III limitations ... serve institutional interests that the parties cannot be expected to protect.” 478 U.S. at 851, 106 S.Ct. 3245. As four Justices observed in Freytag v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 501 U.S. 868, 111 S.Ct. 2631, 115 L.Ed.2d 764 (1991), “[i]t is clear from our opinion in Schor that we had the analogy to Article III subject-matter jurisdiction in mind.” Id. at 897, 106 S.Ct. 3245 (Scalia, J., joined by O'Connor, Kennedy,

792 F.3d 5

and Souter, JJ., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment). Likewise in Stern v. Marshall, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 2594, 180 L.Ed.2d 475 (2011), the Court analyzed de novo a structural Article III challenge to a bankruptcy court's jurisdiction even though that challenge had not been raised in the bankruptcy court. Id. at 2601–02, 2608–20. Again in Sharif, the Court reviewed the structural Article III issue de novo, even though the claim had not been raised in the bankruptcy court or the district court. See Sharif, 135 S.Ct. at 1941, 1944–46. We therefore hold that under Schor 's analysis, Bahlul's structural challenge under Article III is not subject to forfeiture.

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6 practice notes
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 20 Octubre 2016
    ...the Court's judgment affirming Bahlul's conspiracy conviction. I do so for the reasons stated in my dissent in Al Bahlul v. United States , 792 F.3d 1, 27–72 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (since vacated). I incorporate by reference thereto that previously published opinion as my concurrence here.Kavanau......
  • Bahlul v. United States, No. 19-1076
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 4 Agosto 2020
    ...meritorious structural separation of powers objections that could not be forfeited below. See Al Bahlul v. United States (Al Bahlul II ), 792 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The court once again took Al Bahlul's case en banc, reinstated the conspiracy conviction, and remanded the case to the CMCR.......
  • Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11-1324
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 20 Octubre 2016
    ...the Court's judgment affirming Bahlul's conspiracy conviction. I do so for the reasons stated in my dissent in Al Bahlul v. United States, 792 F.3d 1, 27-72 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (since vacated). I incorporate by reference thereto that previously published opinion as my concurrence here. Page 6 ......
  • PHH Corp. v. Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, No. 15–1177
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 11 Octubre 2016
    ...structural independence can never be waived simply 839 F.3d 60does not accord with our cases.”); see also Al Bahlul v. United States , 792 F.3d 1, 33 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (Henderson, J., dissenting) (“[T]he only nonforfeitable argument is subject-matter jurisdiction.”). Although waiver of an Ar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11–1324
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 20 Octubre 2016
    ...the Court's judgment affirming Bahlul's conspiracy conviction. I do so for the reasons stated in my dissent in Al Bahlul v. United States , 792 F.3d 1, 27–72 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (since vacated). I incorporate by reference thereto that previously published opinion as my concurrence here.Kavanau......
  • Bahlul v. United States, No. 19-1076
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 4 Agosto 2020
    ...meritorious structural separation of powers objections that could not be forfeited below. See Al Bahlul v. United States (Al Bahlul II ), 792 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The court once again took Al Bahlul's case en banc, reinstated the conspiracy conviction, and remanded the case to the CMCR.......
  • Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman Al Bahlul v. United States, No. 11-1324
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 20 Octubre 2016
    ...the Court's judgment affirming Bahlul's conspiracy conviction. I do so for the reasons stated in my dissent in Al Bahlul v. United States, 792 F.3d 1, 27-72 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (since vacated). I incorporate by reference thereto that previously published opinion as my concurrence here. Page 6 ......
  • PHH Corp. v. Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, No. 15–1177
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • 11 Octubre 2016
    ...structural independence can never be waived simply 839 F.3d 60does not accord with our cases.”); see also Al Bahlul v. United States , 792 F.3d 1, 33 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (Henderson, J., dissenting) (“[T]he only nonforfeitable argument is subject-matter jurisdiction.”). Although waiver of an Ar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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