Supreme Court rules for immigrant in deportation case

Supreme Court rules for immigrant in deportation case

The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 Monday in Mellouli v. Lynch [SCOTUSblog materials] that an immigrant’s conviction for concealing unnamed pills in his sock did not trigger removal under under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [text]. The INA provides that non-citizens may be deported if they are convicted of violating “any law or regulation of a State, the United States, or a foreign country relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21)[.]” The case before the court specifically challenges the ability of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) [official website] to remove permanent residents for violations of state drug law. Moones Mellouli, a citizen of Tunisia and permanent resident of the US, was convicted for possession of drug paraphernalia under Kansas law. However, his conviction records did not specifically identify the substance with which he was found. Mellouli argued that because there is a possibility that his Kansas drug-paraphernalia conviction did not involve a federally controlled substance, the government should be required to prove a connection between his drug-paraphernalia conviction and a substance on the federal schedule. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled that Mellouli’s conviction for drug paraphernalia was sufficiently general to fall under the category of drug trade, and was thus covered under the INA [opinion]. In an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court reversed.

Just Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Samuel Alito. The court granted certiorari in the case last June and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in January.