Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Section 2241's "jurisdiction" language refers not to subject-matter jurisdiction; therefore waivable

Kanai v. McHugh, No. 10-6086 (4th Cir. Mar. 4, 2011) (synopsis from Fourth Circuit Blog):

Kanai, a West Point cadet in his final year, sought a discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector.  The Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Board denied Kanai's application on the basis that he failed to demonstrate sincerely-held beliefs entitling him to conscientious objector status.  The Army subsequently relieved Kanai of his duties at West Point; Kanai went home to Maryland and filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.  The district court granted Kanai's petition, and the Army appealed.

In determining whether the district court had jurisdiction to hear Kanai's habeas petition, the Fourth Circuit was presented with a question the federal courts have not yet resolved: where should habeas suits be filed when the petitioner is not in jail? The Fourth Circuit sidestepped the challenge to formally resolve the precise meaning of the phrase, "within their respective jurisdictions," in section 2241(a), finding instead that this statutory language "identifies the proper location of the federal district court in which a habeas petition should be filed," rejecting a subject-matter jurisdiction analysis (in accordance with the Supreme Court's holding in Rumsfeld v. Padilla). Additionally, the Fourth Circuit states that any challenge based on this language is waived if not asserted at the district court. Since the Army did not assert a jurisdictional challenge until its appeal, the Fourth Circuit deemed it waived.

On the merits of whether the Army Board had a basis to deny Kanai's application for discharge as a conscientious objector, the Fourth Circuit decided against Kanai, though it remarked favorably on him as "contemplative, self-reflective, and honest."  The standard of review for the Army Board's decision required the Fourth Circuit to uphold the denial if it were supported by a "basis in fact."  Such a basis exists when "conflicting inferences can be drawn from the same evidence."  The Fourth Circuit held that three members of the Army Board's five-member panel appropriately found that Kanai had not presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate his "moral opposition to all wars."   On this narrow standard of review, it upheld the Army Board's denial of Kanai's application for discharge. 

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