The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that foreign nationals in the U.S. illegally and detained on immigration charges can’t file class action lawsuits.
The court ruled 6-3 in Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a partial dissent with Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joining.
The court reversed a ruling issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed detained foreign nationals to file class-action lawsuits who also demanded bond hearings for their release. By doing so, the Supreme Court effectively shut down such lawsuits from being filed in the future.
At issue are two cases brought by Mexican and El Salvadoran nationals who sued the federal government for detaining them according to federal law after they reentered the U.S. illegally. They alleged they had a right to file a class action lawsuit and were entitled to a bond hearing.
One case was brought by Mexican nationals Esteban Aleman Gonzalez and Jose Eduardo Gutierrez Sanchez, who were detained on immigration charges under the Immigration and Naturalization Act after they’d reentered the U.S. illegally. They filed a putative class action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleging they were entitled to bond hearings due to the length of time they were detained. The District Court certified a class of similarly situated plaintiffs and enjoined the federal government from detaining them for more than 180 days without providing them with a bond hearing. A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
Another plaintiff, Edwin Flores Tejada, a native and citizen of El Salvador, also reentered the U.S. illegally and was also detained according to federal law. He sued in the Western District of Washington, alleging that he was entitled to a bond hearing. The District Court certified a class, granted partial summary judgment against the government, and entered class-wide injunctive relief, which a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit also affirmed.
At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the lower courts had jurisdiction to hear their requests and provide class-wide injunctive relief under the INA.
The Supreme Court ruled they did not.
“We hold that the District Courts exceeded their jurisdiction in awarding such relief,” Alito wrote for the majority. He also said, “Respondents advance two counter-arguments, but both fail.”
“The classwide injunctive relief awarded in these cases was unlawful,” the court concluded. “The judgments of the Court of Appeals are reversed, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Section 1252 of the INA, Alito noted, “generally prohibits 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.”
The Immigration Reform Law Institute, which had filed two briefs with the Supreme Court urging it to review the case, and later, to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, argued that foreign nationals in the U.S. illegally who are detained can leave their detention any time by returning to their home country. Since the plaintiffs in the cases didn’t voluntarily leave, they voluntarily chose to be detained, IRLI notes. As a result, they “lack any due process right to liberty except any that Congress has provided by statute – and it has provided no such right,” it argued.
“The detention of removable aliens, whether they are illegal aliens or criminal aliens, is fundamentally different from detention as a sentence for a crime,” IRLI’s executive director and general counsel Dale Wilcox said after the ruling.
“The United States is not holding them prisoner against their will,” he added. “Rather, it is allowing them to remain in the United States while they challenge their deportation in the courts, and setting the conditions for their remaining here. If they don’t like those conditions, they can always leave detention and return to their native land. We are pleased that the Court reached the right result here, and squelched these lawsuits.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a partial dissent, with Kagan and Breyer joining. She wrote that the court “reaches this conclusion in a purportedly textualist opinion that, in truth, 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.”
In a unanimous decision also released Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law doesn’t entitle foreign nationals in the country illegally aren't entitled to a bond hearing.