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In a rarity, the Supreme Court has issued a unanimous ruling in upholding a U.S. law that bars people from actively encouraging illegal immigrants to remain inside the country.
All nine justices on Thursday overturned a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which had said a federal anti-harboring statute was unconstitutional because it allegedly violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.
In upholding the U.S. law, the high court also chastised the 9th Circuit judges for “drastically” veering from established judicial norms.
And interestingly, the decision was written by one of the high court’s most liberal members, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
“[T]he appeals panel departed so drastically from the principle of party presentation as to constitute an abuse of discretion,” she wrote, adding that “a court is not hidebound by the precise arguments of counsel, but the Ninth Circuit’s radical transformation of this case goes well beyond the pale.”
The decision brings to a conclusion a court challenge that has lasted a decade.
In 2010 a grand jury indicted Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, an immigration consultant, for several violations of anti-harboring laws which make it a felony to “encourag[e] or induc[e] an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.”
Sineneng-Smith told her illegal immigrant clients to apply for a certification that would permit them to remain in the U.S. legally even though they didn’t really qualify for the certification.
Legal affairs site Jurist reported that she would charge her clients a fee for the service, earning in excess of $3.3 million in all. In challenging the indictment, Sineneng-Smith that it violated her free speech rights.
The 9th Circuit agreed with her and in so doing, overturned her conviction and threw out the entire law.
However, the lower court’s reversal wasn’t based on arguments presented by her defense but instead by third-party arguments submitted to the appeals court.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the 9th Circuit summarily overstepped its jurisdiction by offering an argument that the defendant had never made. As such, the ruling reaffirms that parties to cases, and not the courts themselves, are what drive outcomes.
Advocates for upholding immigration laws cheered the ruling.
“We applaud the Court’s well-reasoned decision,” noted Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of Immigration and Reform Law Institute, in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the Court did not have to reach the issue of whether this important statute is constitutional, but it did keep the law in place. When and if the overbreadth issue is brought up properly by a defendant in the future, we will be there,” he added.
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