Lyle Denniston, over at ScotusBlog, has great coverage of this remarkable decision. Here's his intro:
In a deeply serious setback for the Bush Administration's legal strategy for the war on terrorism, the Fourth Circuit Court on Wednesday afternoon kept intact its ruling in the now-celebrated Jose Padilla case, suggesting that the Administration may be trying to manipulate the judiciary by attempting to prevent Supreme Court review. The Circuit panel also raised questions about the government's credibility in claiming a dire need to designate Padilla as an "enemy combatant" and thus to confine him -- for more than three years now -- in a military jail, and about its overall credibility in presenting war on terrorism cases to the courts. The language used in the opinion --
reflecting a studied attempt to be temperate, yet coming out as tellingly sharp-edged -- could only be interpreted as the sternest of judicial rebukes on issues of fundamental importance to President Bush's war against global terrorism. The ruling was doubly effective because it was written by Circuit Judge J. Michael Luttig, who has been considered by President Bush as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court and who is one of the most conservative federal appellate judges in the nation.
The Circuit Court denied the government permission to transfer Padilla out of military custody -- a transfer that had a strong probability of keeping the case out of the reach of the Supreme Court. Padilla's appeal to the Justices is pending (Padilla v. Hanft, docket 05-533), and is likely to be acted upon by the Court in January. At this stage, the first issue for the Justices will be whether to grant or deny review
of the Fourth Circuit's Sept. 9 ruling. Judge Luttig, writing for a three-judge Fourth Circuit panel, said "we believe that the transfer of Padilla and the withdrawal of our opinion at the government's request while the Supreme Court is reviewing this court's decision of September 9 would compound what is, in the absence of explanation, at least an appearance that the government may be attempting to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court." In addition, Luttig said: "We believe that this case presents an issue of such especial national importance as to warrant final consideration by that Court, even if only by denial of further review." Thus, he said, "we deny both the motion [to transfer] and suggestion [to vacate the Sept. 9 decision]."