Last week, three members of the ideologically conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court joined forces with their liberal colleagues to rule against the federal government’s arguments in a noteworthy immigration case, as the Washington Examiner reports.
The case at issue, Niz-Chavez v. Garland, involved a Guatemalan native who came to the United States illegally in 2005. The justices were called upon to assess technical questions concerning the required contents of deportation notices and whether the government must send a single notice in order to trigger the so-called “stop-time rule” contained in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 that curtails a nonresident’s ability to claim “continuous stay” in the country, which might otherwise permit them to remain.
Niz-Chavez was sent a deportation hearing notice in 2013, but the documentation included no information about when or where proceedings would occur. A subsequent notice did contain those details, but Niz-Chavez ultimately argued that the government was required to send a single, all-inclusive notice to a non-citizen regarding deportation proceedings in order to trigger the aforementioned rule.
In a 6-3 decision, the Court found in favor of the arguments put forward by Niz-Chavez, with Justice Neil Gorsuch – a member of the Court’s conservative wing – writing for the majority that the ruling turned primarily on the fact that when the relevant act was adopted, the language used stated that the government was required to send “a notice,” according to the Examiner.
The opinion continued, pointing out that “To trigger the stop-time rule, the government must serve ‘a’ notice containing all the information Congress has specified.” According to the majority, “To an ordinary reader – both in 1996 and today – ‘a’ notice would seem to suggest just that: ‘a’ single document containing the required information, not a mishmash of pieces with some assembly required.”
Gorsuch acknowledged the very narrow basis on which the case was being decided, adding, “Admittedly, a lot turns here on a small word. In the view of some, too much. But that’s not how the law is written, and the dissent never explains what authority might allow is to undertake the statutory rearranging it advocates.”
Joining Gorsuch in the majority were fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, as well as Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan from the left-leaning end of the bench. On the other side were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, who also penned the dissenting opinion in the case.
Kavanaugh’s dissent argued that the majority’s rationale was “rather perplexing as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense,” given that Niz-Chavez had already admitted that he was vulnerable to removal due to his status as an illegal. The end result, according to Kavanaugh, was that Niz-Chavez would now have a second bite at the apple regarding remaining in America, all because of a small technicality.
In what represents the first time in the current term that Kavanaugh has diverged from the majority opinion, the justice lamented what he believes will be the “serious administrative burdens” the ruling will bring to an overtaxed immigration system and the potential harm it will cause to other noncitizens.