The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal Monday from the seven Chinese Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay because they have been offered another place to live.
The court allowed the Obama administration to avoid a difficult Supreme Court argument over whether a judge can order detainees released into the United States.
That issue drew considerable attention because it also could have affected the broader issue of whether any Guantanamo detainees — including those who can't be brought to trial for various reasons but are considered too dangerous to be released — should be brought to the U.S. as President Barack Obama fulfills his promise to close the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
The justices took the unusual step of scratching a case three weeks before it was going to be argued, citing changed circumstances in the plight of the Chinese Muslims, or Uighurs, who have been held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba for eight years.
The Uighurs had asked the high court to rule that federal judges have the authority to release detainees into the United States when they have no place to go, an argument they said flows from the court's ruling in 2008 that Guantanamo detainees could challenge their confinement in federal court. That decision is worthless, the Uighurs argued, if a judge cannot ultimately order some detainees to be released.
Lower court can re-examine
Instead, the court sent their case back to the federal appeals court in Washington that previously ruled judges lacked the power to release the Guantanamo detainees inside the United States. The justices said in an unsigned opinion that the lower court should re-examine the case.
The administration asked for dismissal of the appeal, over the objection of the detainees' lawyers. This happened after Switzerland said it would accept two Chinese Muslim brothers, one of whom had been cleared for release but had not received an offer of resettlement.
The other five Uighurs had previously been invited to resettle in the Pacific island nation of Palau and another, unidentified country. It is not clear why they rejected those offers.
"This change in the underlying facts may affect the legal issues presented," the court said.
The Supreme Court typically is reluctant to rule in cases that have not been thoroughly aired in lower courts, and it said this case is no exception.
The court's order Monday is not a complete loss for the Uighurs because the justices also threw out the appeals court ruling against them.
The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim ethnic group from China's far western Xinjiang region. They are linguistically and culturally distinct from China's dominant ethnic group, the Han.
China wants the Uighurs sent home, but they argue — and the administration agrees — that they could be tortured if they are sent to China.
The case is Kiyemba v. Obama, 08-1234.