Whenever there has been (such as now prevails) national tumult surrounding something as marketable as public health, it is to be expected that opinions will foment. The metropolitan appetite for both specificity and vengeance contemporaneously floods the stage. Nor is the scope of the aggression limited; everything and everyone is exposed to censure and punishment. It is the perfect battleground for lawyers because it involves that most fundamental notion of modern freedom; namely, the habeas corpus. And maybe even more deeply it evokes a constitutional right as ancient as the Magna Carta itself. Addressing a modern challenge through the eyes of something so fundamental promises to afford some very basic repercussions. In times of distress the room for obfuscation is narrow. I believe we have to set ourselves to endure some blunt conclusions.
This act was a safeguard against unlawful or arbitrary imprisonment, which was a prevalent and very real worry for British subjects from King John to Charles I, and perhaps even today, though the formation and cause have obviously mutated. Contrary to belief, the ideology of Habeas Corpus was not produced in 1679, but its roots can be traced back as early as the Magna Carta in 1215.
“The day of that prorogation, the twenty-sixth of May, 1679, is a great era in our history. For on that day the Habeas Corpus Act received the royal assent. From the time of the Great Charter the substantive law respecting the personal liberty of Englishmen had been nearly the same as at present: but it had been inefficacious for want of a stringent system of procedure. What was needed was not a new light, but a prompt and searching remedy; and such a remedy the Habeas Corpus Act supplied. The King would gladly have refused his consent to that measure: but he was about to appeal from his Parliament to his people on the question of the succession, and he could not venture, at so critical a moment, to reject a bill which was in the highest degree popular.”
The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 1
Thomas Babington Macaulay
Habeas corpus (Medieval Latin, literally means “you shall have the body”, and in context it means “[we, a Court, command] that you have the body [of the detainee brought before us].”) is a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful.
The vulgar appetite for results will propel acuity by the judiciary – who may understandably sense the thirst for blood. It is one of the few occasions the bench openly participates in festivity with the groundlings. The decisions will be atmospheric.
Meanwhile the public can look forward to an entertaining windup to the next presidential election. The investigative process is bound to be more protracted than anticipated.
And the gallows at the Capitol are not the only ones now on view.