SCOTUS Decision Limits Judicial Activism for Some Deportation Cases
FAIR Take | May 2022
The United States Supreme Court issued a decision this week that restricts federal courts’ jurisdiction in reviewing factual disputes made in certain deportation cases. The court ruled 5-4 in Pankajkumar S. Patel et al. v. Merrick B. Garland, case number 20-979, that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to consider whether immigration officers or judges made correct factual findings in an adjustment of status (also known as green card) decision. Federal courts, however, maintain the ability to review certain constitutional legal issues that arise from these types of cases.
The case involved an alien who had entered the United States illegally in the 1990s and applied to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a discretionary green card. USCIS denied his request after USCIS determined that the illegal alien was ineligible for a green card because he had falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen on a Georgia driver’s license application. Aliens who lie about being U.S. citizens in order to obtain federal or state benefits are generally prohibited by law from receiving green cards.
Patel argued before an immigration judge that his citizenship claim was a mistake, but the immigration judge did not find the alien to be credible and denied his request for a green card. As a result, Patel, who remained in the United States without a lawful immigration status, was issued a removal order. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit refused to consider Patel’s appeal on this issue after it determined that federal law explicitly barred its ability to review these types of cases.
The Court’s ruling is a win for the rule of law by limiting judicial activism in otherwise unreviewable immigration cases. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote the majority’s opinion, explained, “Federal courts have a very limited role to play in this process. With an exception for legal and constitutional questions, Congress has barred judicial review of the Attorney General’s decisions denying discretionary relief from removal.” In holding an interpretation of the statute that was stricter than both the government and alien argued, Judge Barrett stated, “Both the Government’s and Patel’s arguments read like elaborate efforts to avoid the most natural meaning of the text.”