WASHINGTON -- In at least a temporary victory for the Bush administration, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to let the military transfer accused ''enemy combatant" Jose Padilla to Miami to face criminal charges.
The justices overruled a lower court, which had attempted to block the transfer.
The high court said it would decide later whether to consider the inmate's argument that President Bush overstepped his authority by ordering Padilla's indefinite detention in 2002. It granted the Bush administration's request for a transfer in a one-page order and said Padilla's broader appeal would be considered ''in due course."
Padilla's jailing as an enemy combatant for the past 3 1/2 years has been the subject of multiple court rulings and criticism by civil rights groups.
The former Chicago gang member was arrested at O'Hare International Airport and put in military custody, where he was held without charges and traditional legal rights.
The Supreme Court had been asked to use Padilla's case to define the scope of a president's power over American citizens taken into custody on US soil.
The justices had been expected to agree to hear his appeal, but shortly before word was to come, the government brought criminal charges against him in Florida and then argued that the appeal was moot.
The criminal charges do not involve allegations that had been made by the administration since 2002 -- that Padilla was part of a plot backed by Al Qaeda to blow up apartment buildings. Instead, a grand jury charged Padilla with being part of a North American terrorism cell that raised funds and recruited fighters to wage jihad outside the United States.
A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., refused last month to allow the transfer of Padilla from military custody in South Carolina to civilian custody.
The court criticized the Bush administration's use of one set of facts before the courts to justify Padilla's military detention without charges and another set to persuade a grand jury in Miami to indict him on the terrorism-related charges.