Declining Due Process?: Understanding A Recent Supreme Court Decision

By Andrew Soboeiro

Since its decision buying DACA recipients more time, the Supreme Court has looked to many like a champion of immigrant rights. But the highest court has always had a nuanced approach to immigration issues, and hasn’t consistently favored a particular stance on immigration. That remains the case today. The court’s ruling in Jennings v. Gonzalez could undermine due process rights in cases involving immigrants, setting a troubling precedent for millions of new Americans.

Background Basics

While the Trump and Obama administrations are typically seen as having opposing views on immigration, there are some areas where the two have pursued the same policy. In particular, both have sought to broaden the Federal government’s authority to detain immigrants. When apprehending immigrants who have committed crimes, both presidents believed that the government can detain them indefinitely, without allowing for bail hearings.

This belief has been challenged in Jennings v. Rodriguez, a class action lawsuit that has been moving through the courts in some form since 2007. The respondent, Alejandro Rodriguez, is a permanent resident who was convicted for joyriding and drug possession; he was held in custody for three years. Rodriguez and other defendants like him are arguing that the government does not have the right to detain immigrants without periodically giving them a chance to request bail.

In 2012, the US District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of the defendants. The government promptly appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which also ruled in the defendants’ favor. The courts found that the government must give immigrant detainees a bond hearing once every six months unless they represent clear threats to their communities or are flight risks. The Obama Administration appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which began hearing it on November 30th, 2016. When Donald Trump took over as president, his administration continued the lawsuit.

Ruling in Review

In a 5 to 3 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the government cannot be compelled to hold bond hearings for immigrant detainees every six months. Instead, it can detain them “until the end of the applicable proceedings.” This ruling applies to all noncitizen immigrants, including permanent residents. The Supreme Court then sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court, asking them to determine whether there is a constitutional basis for requiring bail hearings.

Technically, the Supreme Court did not resolve this case, and the plaintiffs remain hopeful that they will ultimately prevail. But many fear that the court betrayed a lack of concern for immigrants’ due process rights and personhood. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that “freedom from arbitrary detention is as ancient and important a right as any found within the Constitution’s boundaries. … We need merely remember that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause protects each person’s liberty from arbitrary deprivation.” If the courts do not ultimately protect immigrants who have been detained, they will set a dangerous precedent that fundamental constitutional rights no longer apply to millions of US residents.

For more information on this and all other aspects of immigration policy, contact Vigoda Law Firm today at 919-307-7817.