Media for Clark v. MartinezAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 13, 2004 in Clark v. Martinez
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 12, 2005 in Clark v. Martinez
It allows for no distinction between aliens who have been admitted and the aliens who have not.”
To give these same words a different meaning for each category would be in our view to invent a statute rather than interpret one.
As we have recognized in Zadvydas, the statute can be construed literally to authorize indefinite detention or as Zadvydas held, it can be read to suggest “less than unlimited discretion to detain”, it can not however be interpreted to do both at the same time.
We recognize that this principle of construction may allow non admitted aliens to benefit from constitutional concerns unique to admitted aliens, which were prominent in the Court's opinion in the Zadvydas.
But we do not find this troubling.
It is not all unusual to give a statute's ambiguous language of limiting construction called for by one of the statute's applications even though other of the statute applications standing alone would not require the limitation.
The lowest common denominator, sort of speak, must govern.
If one plausible construction of a statute would raise a multitude of constitutional problems the other construction should prevail, whether or not those constitutional problems pertain to the particular litigant before the court.
For reasons set forth in our opinion we reject the government's recharacterization of the Zadvydas as having held simply the 1231(a)(6) “authorizes detention until it approaches constitutional limits”, and the governments suggestion that is detention of the aliens in these cases was authorized not by 1231(a)(6) but by 1182(d)(5).
In sum, 1231(a)(6) authorizes the detentions of non admitted aliens for as long as reasonably necessary to affect their removal.
Since the government has suggested no reason why the period of time reasonably necessary to affect removal of such an alien is any longer than that required for an admitted alien was the petitioner in the Zadvydas.
The 6-month presumptive detention period set forth in the Zadvydas applies here as well.
The aliens in these cases were detained for more than six months beyond the date they were ordered removed and it is uncontested that their removal is not expected in the foreseeable future.
Therefore the petitions for habeas corpus should have been granted.
The government fears that this result will compromise the security of our boarders by forcing the release into society of inadmissible aliens who can not be removed.
The extent of that risk should not be exaggerated.
Shortly after our decision in Zadvydas, Congress enacted a statute authorizing continuing detention, specifically authorizing continuing detention of aliens who present a national security threat or who have been involved in terrorist activities.
But to the extent a risk of releasing undesirables into the society remains Congress can attend to it.
For this Court however to sanction indefinite detention in the phases of Zadvydas would establish within our jurisprudence beyond the power of Congress to remedy the dangerous principle that judges can give the same statutory text, different meaning in different cases.
This we decline to do.
The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is affirmed and that of the Eleventh reversed.
Justice O’Connor has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice has joined as to part 1A.