Apr 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court justices rules in favor of undocumented immigrant citing legal technicality

A police officer stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who challenged his deportation.

The state of play: The majority opinion brought together an unusual coalition of conservative and liberal justices: Neil Gorsuch, who authored the opinion, and Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.

  • Gorsuch wrote that the Justice Department violated federal law by not providing Agusto Niz-Chavez with a single comprehensive "notice to appear," ABCNews reports.

The details: Niz-Chavez, who entered the U.S. illegally via the southern border in 2005, said he received notice of the charges in 2013, and then later got a second notice with the date and time of his court appearance, per ABC.

  • A 1996 immigration law specifies "a notice to appear" for people the government wants to deport, Gorsuch said, highlighting the singular "a." Though the interpretation hinges on a single word, Gorsuch stressed that the court's job is to ensure the executive branch doesn't overstep its power, reported the StarTribune.
  • "Interpreting the phrase 'a notice to appear' to require a single notice — rather than 2 or 20 documents — does just that," Gorsuch wrote.

The other side: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito dissented. In the dissenting opinion, Kavanaugh wrote: "I find the Court’s conclusion rather perplexing as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense," according to the ABC report.

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