Judulang v. Holder

PETITIONER:Joel Judulang
RESPONDENT:Eric H. Holder, Jr.
LOCATION: DHS Detention Center

DOCKET NO.: 10-694
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 565 US (2011)
GRANTED: Apr 18, 2011
ARGUED: Oct 12, 2011
DECIDED: Dec 12, 2011

Curtis E. Gannon – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent
Mark C. Fleming – for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Joel Judulang was born on June 26, 1966 in the Philippines, but claims that he obtained derivative citizenship through his parents. Judulang entered the United States in 1974 at the age of eight and has continuously resided in the United States for 36 years. His parents are naturalized citizens. He has a 14-year-old daughter who is also a native-born citizen of the United States, as are his four nephews and two nieces. His two sisters are also U.S. citizens. However, Judulang’s parents did not seek to obtain citizenship for him before he turned 18.

In 1988, when Judulang was 22, he was involved in a fight in which another person shot and killed someone. Although Judulang was not the shooter, he was charged as an accessory. He pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Due to his minor involvement in the crime and his cooperation with authorities, Judulang was given a suspended sentence of six years. He was released on probation immediately following his plea. On June 10, 2005, the government commenced deportation proceedings against Judulang as a result of his conviction for voluntary manslaughter, which is an aggravated felony “crime of violence.” The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the deportation order, though it did not affirm the immigration judge’s reasoning. Instead, it ruled that because Judulang was removable for a “crime of violence” aggravated felony, he was categorically ineligible for a Section 212(c) waiver.

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Judulang’s petition for review. His petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc was denied, but Justice Anthony Kennedy stayed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit pending the filing of a petition for certiorari.


Can a lawful permanent resident who was convicted by guilty plea of an offense that renders him deportable and excludable under differently phrased statutory subsections be prevented from seeking discretionary relief from removal under former Section 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act?

Media for Judulang v. Holder

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 12, 2011 in Judulang v. Holder

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 12, 2011 in Judulang v. Holder

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Kagan has our opinion this morning in case 10-694, Judulang versus Holder.

Elena Kagan:

Petitioner in this case is Joe Judulang, a native of the Philippines who has lived in this country for many years as a lawful resident alien.

Recently, the Government sought to deport Judulang based on a manslaughter conviction occurring in 1988.

Judulang tried to apply to the Attorney General for what’s called relief from deportation, essentially, a waiver of the deportation law that would allow him to stay in this country.

The Board of Immigration Appeals, I’m going to call it the BIA, ruled that Judulang was not eligible to seek a waiver.

In this case, we’ve reviewed the BIA’s policy for deciding when resident aliens like Judulang may seek relief from deportation under former section 212(c) of the immigration laws.

Today, we hold that the BIA’s policy is arbitrary and capricious.

The legal background of this case, as you will see, is complicated, but the principle governing our decision is anything but, when an administrative agency sets policy, it must provide reasons, an explanation for its action that makes at least a modicum of sense.

That’s not a high bar, but it is an important one.

And here, the BIA failed to meet it.

Now, the BIA policy here rests on a distinction that the immigration laws draw between exclusion and deportation.

An exclusion case involves an alien trying to gain entry to this country.

A deportation case involves an alien already in the country whom the Government is trying to remove.

The immigration laws provide one list of reasons for excluding an alien and a separate list for deporting an alien.

The statute calls these reasons grounds and many of the grounds focus on prior criminal convictions.

So for example, one ground for excluding an alien is that the alien has previously committed a crime involving moral turpitude.

Well, one ground for deporting an alien is that he has committed what’s called an aggravated felony involving a crime of violence.

Section 212(c) is the key statutory provision in this case.Congress repealed that provision in 1996, but it continues to apply when an immigration action is based on a guilty plea entered before that year, as Judulang’s was.

Under section 212(c), the Attorney General had broad power to permit the entry of aliens who could have been excluded from this country.

The provision was silent about whether the Attorney General had similar power to waive the immigration law in deportation cases.

But over time, the BIA decided that section 212(c) should sometimes apply in those cases, as well.

This case concerns the BIA’s method for deciding when that is so, when a deportable alien is eligible for relief under section 212(c) or to say that another way, when the Attorney General may waive the deportation law and allow the alien to stay in this country.

The BIA’s approach is called the comparable-grounds rule and it’s the thing that we review and that we invalidate in this case.

Under the comparable-grounds rule, the BIA first looks to the ground of deportation charged.

So here, Judulang was charged with what was called an “aggravated felony involved in a crime of violence.”

Then the BIA asks whether that ground has an analog in the exclusion context.

In other words, is there an exclusion ground that covers the same set of criminal offenses, neither more, nor less, nor different?

If there’s no matching ground, the alien is ineligible for a waiver from deportation.

So here, Judulang could not apply for relief because the crime of violence, deportation ground with which he was charged, has no analog in the list of exclusion grounds.

Now, in an exclusion case, an alien with a manslaughter conviction would be eligible for section 212(c) relief because that crime would have fallen within the ground for crimes involving moral turpitude.

Elena Kagan:

But according to the BIA, the moral turpitude exclusion ground does not correspond to the crime of violence deportation ground.

Although both grounds include manslaughter which was Judulang’s crime, each includes some criminal offenses that the other does not and so Judulang was out of luck.

Now, I’m looking into the courtroom right now and I’m seeing some confused faces.

But if the comparable grounds rule doesn’t make much sense to you, not to worry because it doesn’t make much sense to us either, and that’s the point of our decision today.

It’s why we hold that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.

The problem here is that we can find no good explanation for the comparable-grounds rule.

Under the BIA’s approach, an alien’s eligibility for a waiver does not turn on the seriousness of his prior crime, neither does it turn on the length of the alien’s residence in this country or on any other circumstance of his case.

Instead, the alien’s eligibility hinges on the chance correspondence between disconnected statutory categories, but that matter is irrelevant to an alien’s fitness to reside in this country and because that is so, it cannot form the basis of a deportation decision.

We detail in our opinion why the Government’s various attempts to justify the comparable-grounds policy do not succeed, but the long and short of it is, that we think the BIA’s policy is essentially random, almost as if an alien’s eligibility for relief depended on a coin flip.

When we cannot discern a reason for an agency policy, we cannot uphold it.

We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which approved the BIA’s use of the comparable-grounds rule.

Our opinion is unanimous.