Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

RESPONDENT: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
LOCATION: Attorney General Office

DOCKET NO.: 97-1252
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 525 US 471 (1999)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1998
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1999

David D. Cole - Argued the cause for the respondents
Malcolm L. Stewart - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Bashar Amer, Aiad Barakat, Julie Mungai, Amjad Obeid, Ayman Obeid, Naim Sharif, Khader Hamide, and Michel Shehadeh, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), were marked for deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The PFLP is characterized by the government as an international terrorist and communist organization. The resident aliens filed suit alleging the Attorney General and other federal parties had targeted them for deportation because of their affiliation with a politically unpopular group, in violation of their First and Fifth Amendment rights. Initially, the District Court enjoined the deportation proceedings. During the case, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). The IIRIRA restricts judicial review of the Attorney General's "decision or action" to "commence proceedings, adjudicate cases, or execute removal orders against any alien under this Act." Reno then filed motions arguing that the IIRIRA deprived the courts of jurisdiction over the aliens' selective-enforcement claim. The District Court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision on the merits.


Does the IIRIRA deprive federal courts of jurisdiction over aliens' suits alleging that actions of the Attorney General are selectively enforced?

Media for Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1998 in Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 24, 1999 in Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 97-1252, Reno versus American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee will be announced by Justice Scalia.

Antonin Scalia:

This case comes to us on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The facts are as follows:

In 1987, the Immigration and Naturalization Service instituted deportation proceedings against eight aliens who belong to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A group that the government characterizes as an international terrorist and communist organization.

The INS charged six of the aliens with routine status violations, such as overstaying of visa and failure to maintain student status.

It charged the other two with membership in a group advocating terrorism.

All eight aliens immediately filed suit against the INS arguing that they had been unconstitutionally singled out for deportation because of their affiliation with a politically unpopular group.

After several years of litigation, the District Court ultimately enjoined deportation proceeding against the aliens.

While the Attorney General's appeal of that injunction was pending, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1966 known as IIRIRA.

The 96 that I say 76, whatever -- it was 96 -- and the Attorney General argued that a provision of that Act codified at 8 U.S.C. Section 1252(g) deprived the Federal Court of jurisdiction over the alien suit.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed and it upheld jurisdiction and affirmed the merits of the District Court's injunction.

We reverse the Ninth Circuit.

Section 1252(g), unlike the rest of IIRIRA, is immediately applicable to aliens who were in deportation proceedings on IRRIRA's effective date.

The Section states that review of three discrete actions that the Attorney General may take, are decision or action to commence proceedings, to adjudicate cases, or to execute removal orders against any alien is available only as provided elsewhere in Section 1252.

The alien selective-enforcement claims squarely challenged the Attorney General's decision to commence proceedings against them and nothing elsewhere in 1252 gives the Federal Courts jurisdiction over their claims.

Accordingly, judicial review of the commencement of these proceedings is not available.

The aliens argued that the doctrine of constitutional doubt requires us to interpret Section 1252 in such fashion as to permit immediate review of their selective-enforcement claims.

The doctrine of constitutional doubt is the venerable principle of interpretation, which says that if there is any ambiguity in a statute, it should be interpreted in such manner as to avoid serious constitutional questions.

Serious constitutional question the aliens assert is at issue here is the deprivation of there constitutional right, not to have the immigration laws enforced against them solely because of there political beliefs.

They assert that for reasons, it is unnecessary to go into here, if their constitutional right against selective-enforcement is not assertable at this stage in the deportation proceedings, it cannot affectively be vindicated at all.

Since this may well beyond constitutional, they say, the statute should be interpreted to permit them to challenge selective-enforcement immediately.

We reject this argument based on the doctrine of constitutional doubt because in our view aliens unlawfully in this country have no constitutional right to assert a claim of selective enforcement as a defense against deportation.

Even in ordinary criminal prosecutions, the defense of selected prosecution is rarely allowed.

In deportation proceedings, such a defense would be even more intrusive upon necessary executive confidentiality, while at the same time the denial of the defense does not subject the alien to criminal punishment but merely brings to an end his ongoing violation of the immigration laws.

We think that an alien whose very presence in this country is unlawful, may constitutionally be deported whatever the reason he happens to be selected for deportation.

Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment which Justice Breyer has joined in part; Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion.