The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea from five Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that the justices consider their request to be resettled in the United States.
A trial judge had ordered such a plan for the inmates, known as Uighurs. They have been held since 2002, but the U.S. government has agreed that they are not terrorists and pose no threat.
But an appeals court blocked the release, saying decisions about resettlement in this country must be made by the executive and legislative branches, not judges.
The court on Monday declined to review the appeals court decision. There were no noted dissenters, and four justices wrote to explain that it was enough that the government was working to ensure the release of the men to another country.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the government is still committed to placing the men in the Pacific island nation of Palau, where some of their countrymen held at Guantanamo already have settled.
“In my view, these offers, the lack of any meaningful challenge as to their appropriateness and the government’s uncontested commitment to continue to work to resettle petitioners transform petitioner’s claim,” Breyer wrote.
“Under present circumstances, I see no government-imposed obstacle to petitioners’ timely release and appropriate resettlement.”
He was joined in the statement by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Elena Kagan took herself out of consideration of the case. As President Obama’s solicitor general, she was deeply involved in trying to find a place for the Uighurs and had urged the court not to get involved in the effort.
Federal officials have agreed that returning the men to China would likely mean torture or even death. At one time, 22 Uighurs were held at Guantanamo; 17 have been resettled in Palau, Albania, Switzerland and Bermuda.
The case is Kiyemba v. Obama.
The justices took no action on Virginia’s request that they immediately review the nation’s health-care overhaul law.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II had asked the court to fast-track consideration of the constitutionality of the law and skip the normal process of waiting until appeals courts had considered the issue.
The court’s docket indicated the justices would consider the issue at their private conference last Friday, but Monday’s orders from the court did not indicate whether the justices had considered Cuccinelli’s request. It has been relisted for the justices’ conference this Friday.
Federal judges in Virginia have reached conflicting conclusions on the law: A Democratic-appointed judge in one part of the state said Congress was within its power to pass the sweeping overhaul of health care and a Republican-appointed judge in another part said it had overreached.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond is scheduled to hear appeals of those decisions May 10.
The case is Virginia v. Sebelius.
History was made at the court Monday: For the first time in his nearly 25-year career at the court, Justice Antonin Scalia presided over an oral argument.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. took himself out of a patent dispute between Microsoft and technology company i4i, leaving the court’s most senior justice — Scalia — to run the argument.
As is customary for justices, Roberts did not explain his absence in Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Limited Partnership, but his financial disclosure report shows that he owns Microsoft stock.