The D.C. Circuit's ruling rejecting a mandamus petition by Guantánamo military commission defendant Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Abdu Al-Nashiri, not only sustained the D.C. Circuit's mandamus jurisdiction over the commissions in appropriate future cases, but was also at pains to suggest to Congress and the President that they revisit the means by which military judges are appointed to the intermediate Court of Military Commisison Review in order to moot al-Nashiri's serious constitutional objections under the Appointments Clause.
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Both Judge Henderson's dissent in al Bahlul and Peter Margulies's post criticizing the al Bahlul majority assume that courts should take a functional approach to the permissible scope of the jurisdiction of non-Article III military courts--and therefore balance a series of prudential factors in determining when military courts should be allowed to try offenses or offenders not previously subject to military jurisdiction. In this post, I explain why, at a fundamental level, formalism, and not functionalism, is the appropriate analytical mode--and, therefore, why both Judge Henderson's dissent and Peter's critique miss the mark. If anything, the biggest flaw in Judge Rogers' majority opinion is its failure to do more to explain why a formalistic approach is called for in this context. This post aims to fill that gap.