While contentious Supreme Court rulings often break down along ideological lines, that wasn’t the case with one controversial decision handed down by the high court this week.
In what Fox News called “an unusual collection of justices,” three of the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed jurists sided with their liberal counterparts to rule 6–3 this week in favor of an undocumented immigrant who was seeking to avoid deportation on a technicality.
A procedural technicality
According to Fox, the case revolved around a federal law that stipulates that illegal aliens cannot be removed at the attorney general’s discretion if they have lived in the U.S. for 10 years without receiving “a notice to appear” in court for a hearing on their immigration claim.
Agusto Niz-Chavez came to the United States from Guatemala in 2005, ABC News reported, and received multiple pieces of documentation dating back to 2013 that contained differing information about his scheduled court appearance.
One document sent in March reportedly listed the charges against Niz-Chavez, while another in May gave him the time and place of his hearing.
According to ABC, “Niz-Chavez argued the multiple notices he received did not constitute a single notice to appear as required by law.” Somewhat shockingly, a majority of the high court’s justices agreed.
Inconvenience is no excuse
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch said federal statute requires that a single document be sent, opining: “At one level, today’s dispute may seem semantic, focused on a single word, a small one at that. But words are how the law constrains power.”
“In this case, the law’s terms ensure that, when the federal government seeks a procedural advantage against an individual, it will at least supply him with a single and reasonably comprehensive statement of the nature of the proceedings against him,” Gorsuch continued, according to Fox.
“If the government finds filling out forms a chore, it has good company,” the justice wrote. “But as this Court has long made plain, pleas of administrative inconvenience and self-serving regulations never ‘justify departing from the statute’s clear text.'”
A strong dissent
Joining Gorsuch in the majority were fellow conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, along with liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer.
Standing in opposition to the majority’s ruling was Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, the latter of whom authored the minority’s dissent.
“The Court today agrees with Niz-Chavez that, in order to stop the 10-year clock, the Government must provide written notice in one document, not two,” Kavanaugh wrote, according to ABC. “I find the Court’s conclusion rather perplexing as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense. I therefore respectfully dissent.”