Monday, June 1, 2020

Breaking News: Supreme Court Decides Nasrallah v. Barr


In Nasrallah v. Barr, a 7-2 majority of the Supreme Court in an opinion by Justice Kavanaugh  holds that federal immigration law provisions barring judicial review of removal orders do not preclude judicial review of a non-citizen's factual challenge to an order seeking relief under the Convention against Torture.

Justices Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, dissented.

Here is the syllabus to the decision:

"Under federal immigration law, noncitizens who commit certain crimes are removable from the United States. During removal proceedings, a noncitizen who demonstrates a likelihood of torture in the designated country of removal is entitled to relief under the international Convention Against Torture (CAT) and may not be removed to that country.  If an immigration judge orders removal and denies CAT relief, the noncitizen may appeal both orders to the Board of Immigration Appeals and then to a federal court of appeals. But if the noncitizen has committed any crime specified in 8 U. S. C. §1252(a)(2)(C), the scope of judicial review of the removal order is limited to constitutional and legal challenges. See §1252(a)(2)(D).

The Government sought to remove petitioner Nidal Khalid Nasrallah after he pled guilty to receiving stolen property. Nasrallah applied for CAT relief to prevent his removal to Lebanon. The Immigration Judge ordered Nasrallah removed and granted CAT relief. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals vacated the CAT relief order and ordered Nasrallah removed to Lebanon. The Eleventh Circuit declined to review Nasrallah’s factual challenges to the CAT order because Nasrallah had committed a §1252(a)(2)(C) crime and Circuit precedent precluded judicial review of factual challenges to both the final order of removal and the CAT order in such cases.

Held: Sections 1252(a)(2)(C) and (D) do not preclude judicial review of a noncitizen’s factual challenges to a CAT order. Pp. 5–13.

(a) Three interlocking statutes establish that CAT orders may be reviewed together with final orders of removal in a court of appeals. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 authorizes noncitizens to obtain direct “review of a final order of removal” in a court of appeals, §1252(a)(1), and requires that all challenges arising from the removal proceeding be consolidated for review, §1252(b)(9). The Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998 (FARRA) implements Article 3 of CAT and provides for judicial review of CAT claims “as part of the review of a final order of removal.”
§2242(d). And the REAL ID Act of 2005 clarifies that final orders of removal and CAT orders may be reviewed only in the courts of appeals. §§1252(a)(4)–(5). Pp. 5–6.

(b) Sections 1252(a)(2)(C) and (D) preclude judicial review of factual challenges only to final orders of removal. A CAT order is not a final “order of removal,” which in this context is defined as an order “concluding that the alien is deportable or ordering deportation,” §1101(a)(47)(A). Nor does a CAT order merge into a final order of removal, because a CAT order does not affect the validity of a final order of removal. See INS v. Chadha, 462 U. S. 919, 938. FARRA provides that a CAT order is reviewable “as part of the review of a final order of removal,” not that it is the same as, or affects the validity of, a final order of removal. Had Congress wished to preclude judicial review of factual challenges to CAT orders, it could have easily done so. Pp. 6–9.

(c) The standard of review for factual challenges to CAT orders is substantial evidence—i.e., the agency’s “findings of fact are conclusive unless any reasonable adjudicator would be compelled to conclude to the contrary.” §1252(b)(4)(B).
The Government insists that the statute supplies no judicial review of factual challenges to CAT orders, but its arguments are unpersuasive. First, the holding in Foti v. INS, 375 U. S. 217, depends on an outdated interpretation of “final orders of deportation” and so does not control here. Second, the Government argues that §1252(a)(1) supplies judicial review only of final orders of removal, and if a CAT order is not merged into that final order, then no statute authorizes review
of the CAT claim. But both FARRA and the REAL ID Act provide for direct review of CAT orders in the courts of appeals. Third, the Government’s assertion that Congress would not bar review of factual challenges to a removal order and allow such challenges to a CAT order ignores the importance of adherence to the statutory text as well as the good reason Congress had for distinguishing the two—the facts that rendered the noncitizen removable are often not in serious dispute, while the issues related to a CAT order will not typically have been litigated prior to the alien’s removal proceedings. Fourth, the Government’s policy argument—that judicial review of the factual components of a CAT order would unduly delay removal proceedings—has not been borne out in practice in those Circuits that have allowed factual challenges to CAT orders. Fifth, the Government fears that a decision allowing factual review of CAT orders would lead to factual challenges to other orders in the courts of appeals. But orders denying discretionary relief under §1252(a)(2)(B) are not affected by this decision, and the question whether factual challenges to statutory withholding orders under §1231(b)(3)(A) are subject to judicial review is
not presented here. Pp. 9–13.

762 Fed. Appx. 638, reversed.

UPDATE (June 2):  Jennifer Chacon for SCOTUSBlog analyzes the opinion in Nasrallah v. Barr.  Her concluding sentence:  "Ultimately, then, this decision allows for federal appellate court review of administrative factual findings in [Convention Against Torture] claims, but it also may invite such challenges in statutory withholding of removal claims."


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