Clark v. Martinez

PETITIONER: A. Neil Clark, Field Office Director, Seattle, Washington, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al.
RESPONDENT: Sergio Martinez
LOCATION: Meramec River

DOCKET NO.: 03-878
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 543 US 371 (2005)
GRANTED: Mar 01, 2004
ARGUED: Oct 13, 2004
DECIDED: Jan 12, 2005

Christine S. Dahl - argued the cause for Respondent
Daniel J. Popeo - for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance in No. 03-7434 and reversal in No. 03-878
Edwin S. Kneedler - argued the cause for United States
John S. Mills - argued the cause for Benitez
Jonathan J. Ross - for Law Professors as amici curiae in No. 03-7434
Melford O. Cleveland - for Law Professors as amici curiae in No. 03-7434
Richard A. Samp - for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance in No. 03-7434 and reversal in No. 03-878

Facts of the case

The federal government deemed Daniel Benitez and Sergio Martinez inadmissible immigrants and detained them until they could be returned to Cuba.

Benitez and Martinez argued that because deportation to Cuba was unforeseeable, they could not be detained longer than the 90 days allowed by federal law. They pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2001 decision in Zadvydas v. Davis that said the government can detain beyond 90 days immigrants who were admitted to the United States, but only so long as necessary to deport them. Immigrants must be released if deportation is unforeseeable, the Court said.

While separate district courts agreed deportation to Cuba was unforeseeable, the Ninth Circuit and 11th Circuits disagreed over whether Zadvydas applied to inadmissible immigrants.

The U.S. Supreme Court consolidated the two cases.


In Zadvydas v. Davis (2001), the U.S. Supreme Court said admitted immigrants could be detained for deportation for more than 90 days, but no longer than reasonably necessary. Did this ruling apply to inadmissible aliens, such as Benitez and Martinez?

Media for Clark v. Martinez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 2004 in Clark v. Martinez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 2005 in Clark v. Martinez

Antonin Scalia:

The second case I have to announce, equally turgid, is Clark... it is two cases actually, No. 03-878, Clark versus Martinez and No. 03-7434, Benitez versus Russels.

These cases come to us on writs of certiorari to the United States Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and the Eleventh Circuits respectively.

Sergio Suarez Martinez, the respondent in 03-878, and Daniel Benitez the petitioner in 03-7434, each arrived in the United States from Cuba in June 1980 in what is come to be known as the Mariel boatlift.

Both of them were paroled by the Attorney General in to the country.

And then the years that follow both were convicted of a series of criminal offenses.

In light of these convictions the Attorney General revoked their parole and instituted removal proceedings.

Benitez was held to be excludible and ordered deported in 1994.

Martinez was held to be in admissible and ordered removed in 2000.

Both aliens were taken into custody by the INS in late 2000 at the conclusion of their prison terms.

Neither could be removed however, because of Cuba’s refusal to accept them.

As a result they continued in the custody of the Federal Government.

Each alien filed a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. Section 2241 arguing that because his removal from the country was not reasonably foreseeable the government lacks statutory authority to continue to detain him.

Although the District Court in each case agreed with the petitioner that removal was not likely to occur in the foreseeable future.

The District Courts disagreed on the significance to this fact.

In Martinez’s case the District Court granted the writ and ordered his release.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

In Benitez’s case the District Court denied relief and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

We granted certiorari in both cases and now affirm the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and reverse that of the Eleventh.

When an alien is ordered removed, the Secretary of Homeland Security must typically remove him from the country within 90 days.

During which times the Secretary may hold the alien in custody.

As these cases demonstrate however removal within 90 days will not always be possible.

The Secretary’s authority to detain aliens beyond the 90 day period is governed by Title 8 U.S.C. Section 1231(a)(6).

This section applies to three classes of aliens subject to removal orders:

One, aliens like those before us today held to be inadmissible under Section 1182; two, aliens who have been admitted but have been held to be removable under Sections 1227(a)(1)(C), (a)(2), or (a)(4); and lastly aliens whom the Secretary determines to be a danger to the community or a flight risk.

As to each of these three classes however the statute provides simply that aliens “maybe detained beyond the removal period”.

In a case called Zadvydas versus Davis decided in 2001 we interpreted that language as it applies to the second class that is to aliens who have previously gained admission, to permit detention only for so long as reasonably necessary to effect removal.

We said, “once removal is no longer reasonably foreseeable continued detention is no longer authorized.”

The question presented by these cases is whether 1231(a)(6) must be read to place the same limitation upon the Secretary’s authority to detain aliens who have not been admitted.

We concluded it must.

The operative statutory language “maybe detained beyond the removal period applies equally to all aliens that are in the subject of the verb".