Case Note: Jennings v. Rodriguez

Yesterday, the legal community, and immigration advocates especially, were shocked by the Supreme Court’s decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez. The Supreme Court ruled that arriving aliens do not have the right to periodic bond hearings to assess the conditions of their detainment. I will sum up the plurality’s opinion in this post. The decision is not as bad as it sounds. The problem was not the decision, it is in the statutes that are unconstitutional.

Facts: Mr. Rodriguez is a longtime lawful permanent resident. He was convicted of drug possession and joyriding. He was placed in removal proceedings and denied a bond because he was an arriving alien. An arriving alien is an applicant for admission into the United States. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided that these people may not receive a bond. He subsequently won his removal case. However, before that happened, he filed an application for habeas corpus, challenging his prolonged detention. The District and Circuit courts granted his application for the writ and the government appealed.

The ruling: The Supreme Court did not reach the basic question of constitutionality in the case because the Ninth Circuit did not. In a nutshell, the court could not have reached that part of the statute because the lower court did not. Justice Alito, in a decision with which I disagree, decided that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance did not support the Ninth Circuit’s interpretations of the statutes involved. The doctrine asks judges to not rule on the constitutionality of a statute if the case could be resolved based on other grounds. The Ninth Circuit applied the doctrine by reading a 6 months limitation on confinement using Supreme Court precedent. The court did not reach the constitutional question. Justice Alito disagreed, ruling that the precedent cited by the lower court did not support the 6 months limitation, and I agree.

The statutes at hand did not have a temporal limitation on detention; however, I still believe that they are unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit should have reached that question and ruled that the mandatory detention statutes were in fact unconstitutional. I believe that these statutes violate the due process clause, and should be overturned.

I await the Ninth Circuit’s decision in this case. However, Justice Alito hinted that the class which was used in the case may no longer hold. On a side note, I believe that this was a very bad decision to take the Supreme Court, and the government knew this and appealed it. I do not think that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the case. I would have rather seen a challenge to a removal decision before the Court.

As I always say, if you are a lawful permanent resident or a non-US citizen in the United States, please do not commit any crimes. If you do, hire an attorney like Ahmad Yakzan, who has dealt with these issues on a regular basis.

Criminal law attorneys should also visit this link. The case is Jennings v. Rodriguez, and you can download it here.