May 26, 2011
Supreme Court Action Today - Immigration and More
The Supreme Court issued four opinions this morning. The one getting the most news is Chamber of Commerce of United States of America v. Whiting (09-115). The Chamber of Commerce and others challenged an Arizona law, the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which provided that the business licenses of entities that knowingly or intentionally employed unauthorized aliens can be suspended or revoked. The Act also required employers to use the E-Verify database, which is an Internet based system employers can use to check the work authorization status of employees. Congress created E-Verify when it passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).
The Chamber argued that the Arizona law was preempted by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which makes it unlawful to employ unauthorized aliens. IRCA placed limitations on the states in passing their own legislation concerning unauthorized aliens though it allowed sanctions on businesses through licensing or similar laws.
The Court held that this is what the Arizona law does. As such, the law is valid under IRCA. The ruling turned on the definition of license in the Arizona law conforming, more or less, with the ordinary meaning of the term as defined in other statutes and dictionary definitions. The term is stated broadly enough, the Court says, "it is at the very least 'similar' to one, and therefore comfortably within the savings clause."
The Chamber further argued that the requirement to use E-Verify also was preempted by IRCA. The Court rejected this stating that IIRIRA does not contain language prohibiting states from requiring employers to use E-Verify. In any event, not using E-Verify merely removes a rebuttable presumption of compliance with federal and state law.
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court only with respects to some of its parts. Other parts drew no more than three justices. Five Justices, though, concurred in the judgment. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion joind by Justice Ginsburg. He disputed how the term license was used by the majority in state and federal legislation. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion as well. Justice Kagan did not participate in the case.
The next case is a Speedy Trial Act case, United States v. Tinklenberg (09-1498). The Act requires trial after arraignment within 70 days, subject to exclusions, including “delay resulting from any pretrial motion, from the filing of the motion through the conclusion of the hearing on, or other prompt disposition of, such motion,”
Tinklenberg's trial began 287 days after arraignment. The District Court calculated 218 days fell within the exclusion with 69 days otherwise falling within the Act's requirement. The Sixth Circuit recalculated the days and said 9 days where pretrial motions were pending did not count bringing the total to over 70 days. As Tinklenberg had already served his sentence, that court ordered the indictment dismissed with prejudice.
The Court held that the Act does not require the pretrial motion to have actually caused a delay of trial. The Act stops the clock by filing the motion by its terms, though not so explicitly that the Sixth Circuit's reading was unreasonable. The Court examined the structure of the Act's lists of exceptions, and how they were characterized. The Court stated it's reading of of the structure, combined with every other Circuit rejecting the Sixth Circuit's reading over 37 years of jurisprudence, and other factors, compelled the result.
Nonetheless, the Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit judgment ordering the indictment dismissed with prejudice. It took the unusual step of considering how the number of transportation days allowed under the Act were calculated. The lower courts exempted some transportation days allowed as excluding weekends and holidays under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 45(a). The Court's reading of the statute does not incorporate the Federal Rule. They reach the same result, but for different reasons.
Justice Breyer wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, and Sotomayor. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas joined in parts of the opinion. Justice Scalia also filed a concurring opinion.
In Fowler v. United States (10-5443), Fowler was convicted of violating the federal witness protection statute which makes it a crime to kill another person with the intent of preventing that person from communicating with federal law enforcement officers with information relating to the commission of a federal crime. Fowler and others were planning a bank robbery and were discovered by a police officer, whom they killed. The Eleventh Circuit upheld Fowler's conviction, saying that the government's showing of possible communications was enough.
The Court held that the government must show that a relevant communications would have been made to a federal officer. The Court reads the statute to require intent of preventing the communication, though not to any specific federal officer. The Court remanded the case to the lower courts to consider the evidence in light of the Court's standard.
The last case is Camreta v. Greene (09-1454). This case presents the Court with procedural issues concerning its own jurisdiction to hear some appeals. The underlying facts concern a suit for damages under 42 U. S. C. §1983 where a state child protective services worker and a county deputy sheriff interviewed a 9 year old child on allegations that her father had abused her. The interview was conducted without a warrant or parental consent. The father was tried after these individuals secured statements of abuse from the child. The jury failed to reach a verdict and the charges were later dismissed. The child's mother filed the federal tort claim claiming that the in-school interview violated the Fourth Amendment.
The District Court granted summary judgment to the officials. The Ninth Circuit held that the interview as conducted violated the Fourth Amendment, but held the officials had qualified immunity from suit and affirmed the District Court. The Ninth Circuit said the ruling on Fourth Amendment claim would put officials on notice that this type of conduct was prohibited by the Constitution. The winning officials took the unusual step of appealing the rationale of the decision even though it was in their favor. The child declined to cross-petition the ruling.
The Court stated that under Article III, these officials could bring the case to the Court despite the favorable ruling as the case-or-controversy requirement is met as they would have to change their conduct as long as the Eleventh Circuit ruling stood. The Court was careful to note that its ruling only concerned its own authority to review cases in this procedural posture and did not apply to the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The Court also noted that this ruling did not compel it to hear similar cases if it chose not to.
The Court, however, dismissed the appeal. It stated that the child is about to turn 18 and will no longer have an interest in the outcome as the prohibited conduct could never occur to her again. The case is moot. Under these circumstances, the court vacates the Ninth Circuit's constitutional holding as the moot posture has frustrated the petitioner's ability to challenge the Ninth Circuit's ruling.
Justice Kagan wrote the opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, and Alito. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Breyer. Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas. [MG]