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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Detained Immigrants on Bond Hearings

Updated on
  • Supreme Court overturns ruling that guaranteed hearings
  • 5-3 decision affects thousands of people facing deportation

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling that had guaranteed periodic bond hearings, and the possibility of release, for thousands of foreigners who are being detained while facing deportation.

The justices, voting 5-3, said federal law doesn’t require those hearings. The ruling affects some legal permanent residents convicted of crimes, as well as foreigners who are in the country illegally or seeking asylum. It is likely to have implications for President Donald Trump’s efforts to step up deportations.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said a San Francisco-based appeals court adopted an implausible interpretation of federal immigration law when it required bond hearings every six months. Alito said the lower court was wrong to say that reading was necessary to avoid serious questions under the Constitution’s due process clause.

Courts "still must interpret the statute, not rewrite it," Alito wrote.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Breyer wrote for the group that the majority’s interpretation "would likely render the statute unconstitutional."

Justice Elena Kagan didn’t take part in the ruling because she was briefly involved in the litigation when she served as U.S. solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

Constitutional Arguments

The justices sent the case back to a lower court, where those seeking bond hearings might be able to press separate, constitutional arguments.

"We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances," said Ahilan Arulanantham, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case. "We look forward to going back to the lower courts to show that these statutes, now interpreted by the Supreme Court to require detention without any hearing, violate the due process clause.”

Alito, however, questioned the viability of those claims, saying federal immigration law might preclude the appeals court from considering them. Alito also pointed to a 2011 Supreme Court decision that limited class-action lawsuits in a case involving Walmart Inc.

The Supreme Court heard arguments twice in the case, the first time while Obama was still president. The Obama administration contended that federal immigration law doesn’t permit bond hearings for the categories of people involved in the case.

After the argument, the court said it wanted to consider whether the Constitution might require bond hearings, even if federal statutes don’t. The court didn’t decide that issue in Tuesday’s ruling.

Other Safeguards

The court then heard a second argument in October, with the Trump administration now making the government’s case and the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, available to take part. A month later, the court said Kagan would no longer participate in the case because she had just realized she signed a brief for the government in an earlier phase.

The government argued that bond hearings aren’t necessary because the system provides other safeguards, including the right to file so-called habeas corpus petitions to seek release.

The high court was considering a class-action lawsuit pressed by immigrants being detained by the Department of Homeland Security in California.

The group originally included Alejandro Rodriguez, a legal permanent resident who was detained for about three years while he challenged deportation charges that centered on convictions for possession of a controlled substance and driving a stolen vehicle. Rodriguez ultimately won his case and wasn’t deported.

The case is Jennings v. Rodriguez, 15-1204.

(Updates with ACLU reaction in eighth paragraph.)
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