The case is a class-action lawsuit brought by immigrants who've spent long periods in custody. The group includes some people facing deportation because they've committed a crime and others who arrived at the border seeking asylum.
In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court overturned two Ninth Circuit decisions that held that aliens who were not immediately detained upon release from criminal custody were entitled to a bond hearing. The appeals court said the immigrants generally should get bond hearings after six months in detention, and then every six months if they continue to be held.
This class action suit arose under the “mandatory detention provision” of the Immigration and Nationality Act which mandates that “the Attorney General shall take into custody any alien who ... is deportable by reason of having committed any offense covered in section ... when the alien is released.”
Plaintiffs, mostly green-card holders, argue that, because they were not immediately taken into custody upon completing their sentences, they are not covered by the mandatory detention provision. Many of the plaintiffs lived and worked in the US for years upon release and argue that they should be considered for bond release, rather than detention, while their removal orders are being processed.
The court’s majority however agreed with the Trump administration’s argument that the government’s duty to detain aliens who have committed certain crimes is not abrogated if the government fails to detain the individual immediately upon release. Alito emphasized that the court did not consider the constitutionality of the mandatory detention provision because that question was not brought by the plaintiffs in this case.
In a brief concurrence joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that various statutes limit judicial review in this cases, noting that the Districts Courts likely did not have jurisdiction.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, focused primarily on the statute’s text, finding that:
The language of the statute will not bear the broad interpretation the majority now adopts. Rather, the ordinary meaning of the statute’s language, the statute’s structure, and relevant canons of interpretation all argue convincingly to the contrary.
In announcing his dissent, Breyer also cited concerns with the powers the majority’s opinion grants to the government: “It is a power to detain persons who committed a minor crime many years before. And it is a power to hold those persons, perhaps for many months, without any opportunity to obtain bail.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case on behalf of the immigrants, had previously said that about 34,000 immigrants are being detained on any given day in the United States, and 90 percent of immigrants' cases are resolved within six months. But some cases take much longer.
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