US Supreme Court rejects Ninth Circuit rule presuming credibility of asylum seeker testimony
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US Supreme Court rejects Ninth Circuit rule presuming credibility of asylum seeker testimony

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a Ninth Circuit rule that required courts reviewing immigration decisions to assume that testimony from petitioners was credible and true unless the immigration judge (IJ) made an explicit adverse credibility determination.

This consolidated case involved two asylum seekers whose initial testimonies were later undermined by new facts that came to light. Both were subsequently denied relief by an IJ and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), but the Ninth Circuit granted review. The appeals court held that “in the absence of an explicit adverse credibility finding by the IJ or the BIA,” Mr. Dai’s testimony had to be “deemed credible” and “true,” and granted him asylum.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the unanimous court in Garland v. Dai, held that the circuit court’s interpretation was contrary to the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s standard of judicial deference to administrative findings unless “any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude to the contrary.” Gorsuch explained that in applying this rule, the Ninth Circuit was only assuming the credibility of favorable testimony and ignoring the credibility of petitioners’ later unfavorable testimony.

The court held that the BIA does not have to “follow a particular formula or incant ‘magic words’ like ‘incredible’ or ‘rebutted’ to overcome the INA’s presumption of credibility on appeal.” Thus, factfinders will not have to state outright whether an asylum seeker’s testimony is credible, and reviewing judges must accept the judgment of IJs and the BIA as fact “so long as the BIA’s reasons for rejecting an alien’s credibility are reasonably discernible.”