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The Muslim Ban, Judicial Review, and the Supreme Court

 

There’s so much to say about the Executive Order on immigration issued on Friday by President Trump. Much of it has been said by Ben Wittes, in his fantastic post on “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence,” and by our very own David Cole, who wrote yesterday to explain why the core provisions of the Executive Order are likely unconstitutional. My own reaction is to recall Charles Black’s famous line about the Supreme Court’s infamous Plessy decision–that “The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.”

At the time I write this (11 a.m. EST on Sunday), four federal district courts have weighed in with stays on enforcement of the order–including the most sweeping order from Judge Burroughs in Boston:

Needless to say, judicial review has already played an enormous role here–and could play an even bigger role going forward. And each of the courts to act on the Executive Order thus far have assumed that the non-citizens at issue have a right to the very judicial review they are invoking. But at least in the Third Circuit, that’s not at all clear–thanks to that court’s deeply troubling ruling last August in Castro v. Department of Homeland Security.

In a nutshell, Castro held that non-citizens physically but not lawfully present on U.S. soil are not protected by the Constitution’s Suspension Clause–meaning that they have no constitutional right to judicial review, even if their detention and/or removal from the country is clearly unlawful. In reaching this holding, the Third Circuit made two massive analytical leaps (and errors), both of which I documented at length in a longer post from August. First, the Court of Appeals held that the so-called “entry fiction,” under which the Supreme Court treats arriving non-citizens literally stopped at the border as if they are not technically on U.S. soil for purposes of the applicability (or not) of certain constitutional protections, extends to non-citizens living in the United States who do not have lawful immigration status. The Supreme Court has never embraced this extension, and indeed, has handed down several decisions recognizing at least some constitutional protections for such individuals–and for good reason. Second, even assuming the “entry fiction” extends to non-citizens physically but not lawfully present in the United States, the Third Circuit held that non-citizens in such status have no entitlement to judicial review under the Suspension Clause, even though the Supreme Court has never suggested that the Suspension Clause (as opposed to, e.g., the Due Process Clause) doesn’t apply “at the border,” and, indeed, has expressly applied the Suspension Clause to non-citizens detained at Guantánamo–who, obviously, have even less of an entitlement to constitutional protection than folks physically detained on sovereign U.S. territory.

My post from last August offers longer analysis of why this reasoning is so problematic. And a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court is already pending in Castro (with the government’s response due on February 27). I wanted to re-up this issue this morning, though, for two different reasons:

First, it is now so much more important for the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in Castro–and reverse the Third Circuit. Reasonable minds may well disagree about the limits of immigration law, and the extent to which the Executive Order (and other U.S. immigration policies) run afoul of the Constitution. But the courts have to be the institution to settle those disputes; under Castro, the Executive Branch’s actions could theoretically be immune from such review, at least in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware (okay, and in the U.S. Virgin Islands, too).

Second, with President Trump due later this week to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice Scalia’s death, it is worth emphasizing that one of the judges on the rumored short-list–Judge Thomas Hardiman–was part of the Third Circuit’s ruling in Castro, and, indeed, joined the majority opinion “in full.” (He wrote separately to suggest a different ground on which to deny access to judicial review to the petitioners.) In my view, at least, endorsing such a doctrinally flawed, analytically problematic, and poorly reasoned opinion on such a major constitutional question comes close to being disqualifying in its own right. But at the very least, it should provoke questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for Judge Hardiman (or any nominee, for that matter) about the proper role of the courts in supervising detention within the United States–and in standing up to Executive Branch actions that, at least based on precedent, certainly seem to be unconstitutional.

After all, if the past 36 hours are any indication, we’re going to need such judicial review quite a lot in the coming weeks, months, and <gulp> years.

 

Image: A U.S. Border Patrol agent checks birth certificates while taking Central American immigrants into detention on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas – John Moore / Getty


About the Author

is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security. Steve is a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@steve_vladeck).