Article I, Section 9: Habeas Corpus

Latin for “You may have the body,” habeas corpus is the essential protection of liberty in the U.S. justice system. It refers to the right of prisoners to question their imprisonment. If the government cannot show why a person is being held in jail, that person must be released.

The Founders brought this legal tradition with them from England. Blackstone cites uses of habeas corpus in the 14th century in Commentaries on The Laws of England. Writs of habeas corpus are protected by the Constitution, which provides in the limits on the powers of Congress that “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.” Additionally, the Sixth Amendment rights of accused persons provide the procedural framework for habeas corpus petitions.

During the Civil War, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis suspended writs of habeas corpus. Landmark Supreme Court cases involving habeas corpus include ex parte Milligan (1866) and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004).