The core question raised by this case is whether a federal prisoner serving an unconstitutional sentence can be foreclosed from post-conviction habeas relief by the gatekeeping provisions of § 2255. The Constitution answers that question in the negative through the Suspension Clause. “[F]reedom from unlawful restraint [i]s a fundamental precept of liberty,” and the writ of habeas corpus “a vital instrument to secure that freedom.” Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 739. The importance of the common law writ was such that the Framers specified that it could be suspended only in the most exigent circumstances. U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 2; see also Boumediene, 553 U.S. at 739, 743; Martin H. Redish & Colleen McNamara, Habeas Corpus, Due Process, and the Suspension Clause: A Study in the Foundations of American Constitutionalism, 96 Va. L. Rev. 1361, 1370–72 (2010) (citing 2 The Records of The Federal Convention of 1787, at 438 (Max Farrand ed., rev. ed. 1966)). If § 2255’s gatekeeping provisions preclude Mr. Bell’s use of the statutory habeas substitute and § 2255’s savings clause does not provide an avenue for habeas relief in this case, then the statute would violate the Suspension Clause.
As discussed below, Mr. Bell’s pursuit of post-conviction habeas relief for his unconstitutional sentence is consistent with the historic use of habeas corpus in England and the United States. Further, the availability of habeas corpus to challenge unconstitutional sentences such as Mr. Bell’s protects critical principles of separation of powers and due process set forth in the Constitution. Any statute that precluded Mr. Bell and similarly situated prisoners from pursuing habeas relief would suspend the writ of habeas corpus in violation of the Suspension Clause.
Brief of Professor Brandon Brief of Professor Brandon Hasbrouck as Amicus Curiae in Support of Appellant: Bell v. Streeval, 4th Cir. No. 22-6189.