Supreme Court Makes It More Difficult to Challenge Immigration Policies

June 13, 2022 by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Makes It More Difficult to Challenge Immigration Policies
Migrants walk on the highway toward the exit to Huixtla, Chiapas state, Mexico, early Thursday, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

WASHINGTON — In a pair of rulings on Monday, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for illegal immigrants to challenge U.S. policies directed at them in court.

In the first case, Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, a unanimous court ruled that immigrants do not have a right to bond hearings when the government can show they are a flight risk.

In the second case, Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez, a 6-3 ruling, a majority of justices held that district courts lack the authority to order the government to provide such hearings on a class-wide basis.

The Johnson ruling, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, overturned rulings of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, and 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Both appellate courts had relied on a 2001 ruling by the Supreme Court that said the Constitution usually does not allow the government to hold immigrants more than six months without giving them a hearing and a chance to seek their release on bond.

But Sotomayor wrote that the statute the petitioner cited to make his case “says nothing about bond hearings before immigration judges or burdens of proof, nor does it provide any other indication that such procedures are required.”

“Faithfully applying our precedent, the court can no more discern such requirements from the text of [the statute] than a periodic bond hearing requirement from the text [of another statute] than a periodic bond hearing requirement from the text of §1226(a).

“Section 1231(a)(6) therefore cannot be read to incorporate the procedures imposed by the courts below as a matter of textual command,” Sotomayor said.

She went on to say that because the appellate courts agreed with Arteaga-Martinez’s claim that the statute required a bond hearing, they failed to address his constitutional claims.

The justices remanded the cases back to those courts to consider those claims.

In the second ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority held that challenges to immigration must be brought individually and not on a class-wide basis.


Alito concludes that under a 1996 statute, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, lower federal courts lack the power to grant injunctive relief to entire classes of immigrants that would bar immigration officials from carrying out certain policies.

According to Alito the language in the relevant laws “generally” prohibit lower courts from entering injunctions that order federal officials “to take or to refrain from taking actions to enforce, implement, or otherwise carry out the specified statutory provisions.”

Sotomayor wrote a partial dissent, joined in part by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.

In it, she said, the majority opinion “elevates piecemeal dictionary definitions and policy concerns over plain meaning and context.”

“I respectfully dissent from the court’s blinkered analysis, which will leave many vulnerable noncitizens unable to protect their rights,” she wrote.

Sotomayor, however, saw a few rays of sunshine peeking through the gloomy nature of the majority ruling.

“In fairness, the court’s decision is not without limits,” she wrote. “For instance, the court does not purport to hold that §1252(f)(1) affects courts’ ability to ‘hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions’ under the Administrative Procedure Act. No such claim is raised here.

“In addition, the court rightly does not embrace the government’s eleventh-hour suggestion at oral argument to hold that §1252(f)(1) bars even class-wide declaratory relief, a suggestion that would (if accepted) leave many noncitizens with no practical remedy whatsoever against clear violations by the Executive Branch.

“Even with these limits, however, the repercussions of today’s decision will be grave,” Sotomayor concluded. “In view of the text and context of §1252(f)(1), these repercussions offer yet more evidence that the court’s interpretive effort has gone badly astray.


“The essence of statutory interpretation is to review the plain meaning of a provision in its context. The court’s analysis, by violating several interpretive principles, ultimately fails in that endeavor. I respectfully dissent,” she concluded.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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