Monday, May 4, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Rejects U.S. Government's Position in Identity Theft case

SCOTUS Blog provides us with good news this morning.  The Court today decided Flores-Figueroa v. United States. The decision below, which held for the United States, is unanimously reversed and remanded in a 9-0 opinion written by Justice Breyer. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment, joined by Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment. Download 08-108[1]

We previously reported that Flores-Figueroa v. U.S. would give the Court the opportunity to spell out the proof that federal prosecutors must offer in order to obtain a conviction for criminal identity theft under federal law. The Bush administration had increased the use of the identity fraud criminal charges in immigration enforcement, such as in the raid on the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa in May 2008.  Thus, Flores-Figueroa will likely affect future immigration enforcement efforts.  Federal appellate courts had been divided over the government's burden of proof in aggravated identity theft cases. The Court held that prosecutors must prove that defendants knew that fraudulent Social Security numbers or other documents they used belonged to a real person as opposed to an identity being fabricated.

Wins for noncitizens in this case and Negusie v. Mukasey in March and Nken v. Holder in April are somewhat surprising with this staunchly conservative Supreme Court.  But it once again demonstrates that immigration is not a simple liberal/conservative issue.  Losses in the three cases for the President does suggest that the Bush administration took some extreme positions on immigration-related matters that even this Court could not swallow.  Interestingly, the trio of decisions involve bodies of jurisprudence (statutory interpretation, agency deference) that cut across many different bodies of law.  The Bush administration ran counter to the Court's general tendency in those areas and got slammed decisively and repeatedly.  Perhaps the Obama administration understands this, as the Solicitor General has abandoned the Bush administration's position greatly limiting judicial review of discretionary immigration decisions in a motion to reopen case that the Supreme Court granted cert in last week.     

Click here for Nina Totenberg's and here for Adam Liptak and Julia Preston's summary of the case.


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