The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday held 5-3 [opinion, PDF] that Chapter 12 of Title 8 of the US Code [text, PDF] does not afford detained immigrants, including permanent residents, “the right to periodic bond hearings” and that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] misapplied the canon of constitutional avoidance [Cornell LII backgrounder] in imposing an implicit six-month time limit on an alien’s detention under chapter 12.
The case concerned a 2004 conviction of Alejandro Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen and a lawful permanent resident of the US who was detained pursuant to § 1226 of chapter 12. Rodriguez filed a habeas corpus petition in the US District Court for the Central District of California [official website] challenging his continued detention and that he was entitled to a bond hearing.
Specifically, Rodriguez alleged that his continued detention without a bond hearing violated §§ 1225(b), 1226(a) and 1226(c) of chapter 12. The district court agreed and permanently enjoined the government from continuing the detention. The Ninth Circuit upheld the decision, interpreting §§ 1225(b) and 1226(c) as imposing a six-month time limit on an alien’s detention. The Ninth Circuit then construed § 1226(a) to mean that “an alien must be given a bond hearing every six months and that detention beyond the initial 6-month period is permitted only if the Government proves by clear and convincing evidence that further detention is justified.”
In reaching this conclusion, the Ninth Circuit relied on the canon of constitutional avoidance (the canon) under which “a court may shun an interpretation that raises serious constitutional doubts and instead may adopt an alternative that avoids those problems” when statutory language is susceptible of multiple interpretations. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, concluded that the Ninth Circuit misapplied the canon in this case:
neither §1225(b)(1) nor §1225(b)(2) says anything whatsoever about bond hearings. Despite the clear language of §§1225(b)(1) and (b)(2), respondents argue—and the Court of Appeals held—that those provisions nevertheless can be construed to contain implicit limitations on the length of detention. But neither of the two limiting interpretations offered by respondents is plausible. … There are many problems with this interpretation. Nothing in the text of §1225(b)(1) or §1225(b)(2) even hints that those provisions restrict detention after six months, but respondents do not engage in any analysis of the text. Instead, they simply cite the canon of constitutional avoidance and urge this Court to use that canon to read a “six-month reasonableness limitation” into §1225(b). … In much the same manner, the Court of Appeals all but ignored the statutory text. … Section 1225(b)(1) mandates detention “for further consideration
of the application for asylum,” §1225(b)(1)(B)(ii), and §1225(b)(2) requires detention “for a [removal] proceeding,” §1225(b)(2)(A). The plain meaning of those phrases is that detention must continue until immigration officers have finished “consider[ing]” the application for asylum, §1225(b)(1)(B)(ii), or until removal proceedings have concluded, §1225(b)(2)(A).
Justices Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, stating that the Ninth Circuit correctly applied the Canon and that the majority’s ruling effectively rendered the statute itself unconstitutional because a ruling of no hearing based on chapter 12 would violate the Fifth Amendment [GPO backgrounder] Due Process Clause: “An alien is a ‘person.’ To hold him without bail is to deprive him of bodily ‘liberty.’ And, where there is no bail proceeding, there has been no bail-related ‘process’ at all. The Due Process Clause—itself reflecting the language of the Magna Carta [Britannica backgrounder]—prevents arbitrary detention.”