John Paul Stevens on Immigration

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Ford 1975)


6-month limit on detaining illegal immigrants

The Supreme Court ruled today that the government may not detain deportable aliens indefinitely simply for lack of a country willing to take them. The 5-to-4 decision rejected the government’s view, as argued by both the Clinton and Bush administrations, that immigration law authorized and the Constitution permitted indefinite, even lifelong detention of immigrants adjudged deportable but unable to be repatriated.

Justice Breyer’s majority opinion-joined by O’Connor, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg- said that because interpreting the law in that way would present a “serious constitutional threat” under the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the court would construe the law to permit only “reasonable” detention, [defined as] six months in custody.

Justice Kennedy objected that the court was unwisely substituting “judicial judgment for the executive’s discretion and authority.” The case, Zadvydas v. Davis, No. 99-7791, will have an immediate impact on at least several thousand people.

Source: Linda Greenhouse, NY Times on 2001 SCOTUS , Jun 29, 2001

No automatic deportation for aliens convicted of crimes.

Justice Stevens wrote the Court's decision on INS v. St. Cyr on Jun 25, 2001:

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began deportation of Enrico St. Cyr after he pleaded guilty to a controlled substance violation. St. Cyr, a lawful permanent resident for ten years and a citizen of Haiti, became deportable by being convicted of the controlled substance violation. Before the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), the Attorney General could waive deportation of resident aliens. The AEDPA and IIRIRA, however, limited the class of aliens who can apply for relief.

HELD: By Stevens, joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

Justices decide, 5-4, against automatic deportation of those convicted of crimes before new stringent legal provisions took effect in 1996. Congress did not intend to strip the federal district courts of their authority to hear petitions from deportable aliens and that the AEDPA and IIRIRA did not deny relief to aliens who would have been eligible for such relief at the time of their convictions.

DISSENT #1: By Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas, and joined in part by O'Connor

Scalia, in dissent, argued that the plain language of the AEDPA and IIRIRA stripped the federal district courts of jurisdiction to entertain habeas corpus petitions. Scalia also argued that the majority was forcing Congress to use "magic words" to overcome the presumption of habeas corpus relief.

DISSENT #2: By O'Connor

The law guarantees some minimum extent of habeas review, but the right asserted by the alien in this case falls outside the scope of that review.
Source: Supreme Court case 01-ST-CYR argued on Apr 24, 2001

INS may not hold deportation suspects indefinitely.

Justice Stevens joined the dissent on Demore v. Kim on Apr 29, 2003:

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows taking into custody any alien who is removable from this country because he has been convicted of one of a specified set of crimes. Respondent Kim, a lawful permanent resident alien, was convicted in state court of first-degree burglary; the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) charged him with being deportable, and detained him, without bail, pending his removal hearing.

HELD: By Rehnquist; joined in full by Kennedy; in part by O'Connor, Scalia, & Thomas

The Court held
  1. that the Immigration and Nationality Act does not deprive the federal courts of jurisdiction to grant habeas relief to aliens challenging their detention, and
  2. that detention during removal proceedings is a constitutionally permissible part of that process.
Rehnquist wrote that Congress, concerned that deportable criminal aliens may fail to appear for their removal hearings, has the authority to require that persons be detained for the brief period necessary for their removal proceedings.

CONCURRENCE IN PART 2; DISSENT IN PART 1: By O'Connor; joined by Scalia & Thomas

O'Connor dissented from the first holding, reasoning that the Act deprives federal courts of jurisdiction in such a case.

CONCURRENCE IN PART 1; DISSENT IN PART 2: By Souter; joined by Stevens, Ginsburg & Breyer

This concurrence dissented from the Court's second holding; i.e., that the INS may not indefinitely hold people awaiting hearings for deportation. The minority argued against lengthy mandatory detention: "The Court's holding that the Constitution permits the Government to lock up a lawful permanent resident of this country when there is concededly no reason to do so forgets over a century of precedent acknowledging the rights of permanent residents, including the basic liberty from physical confinement lying at the heart of due process."
Source: Supreme Court case 03-DEMORE argued on Jan 15, 2003

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Other Justices on Immigration: John Paul Stevens on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(since 1993)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Anthony Kennedy(since 1988)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Feb 01, 2020