Release Date:  June 25, 2020
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Ninth Circuit Ruling Rejected in DHS v. Thuraissigiam

In a 7-2 decision announced today, the U. S. Supreme Court rejected an alien’s claim that a federal law prohibiting his court challenge to the denial of his asylum claim was unconstitutional. The decision overturned the March 7, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had announced that the federal law in question violates the Constitution’s Suspension Clause.

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation joined the case to argue that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling was improper because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to limit access to habeas corpus by noncitizens who have no substantial connection with this country.

In the high court’s majority opinion, Associate Justice Samuel Alito writes that the alien’s “Suspension Clause argument fails because it would extend the writ of habeas corpus far beyond its scope ‘when the Constitution was drafted and ratified.’ ”

The case involves the February 17, 2017, arrest of a Sri Lankan national named Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam 25 yards inside the California/Mexico border moments after he illegally entered the U. S. Thuraissigiam claimed that he was a persecuted minority in his home country who had been detained and beaten because of his political beliefs. A review of this claim by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security concluded that it was not credible and he was ordered deported. In January 2018, Thuraissigiam filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal District Court, arguing that the deportation order violated his constitutional rights. The District Court rejected the petition, finding that federal law limited access of illegal aliens to judicial review of claims asserting U. S. constitutional rights.

Thuraissigiam appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which on March 3, 2019, reversed the lower court ruling and ordered review of his asylum claim. While agreeing that the federal law restricted judicial consideration of his claims, the Ninth Circuit held that such a restriction violates the Constitution’s Suspension Clause.

In October 2019, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the government’s appeal of the Ninth Circuit ruling. Thuraissigiam was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, with briefs in support from ten other organizations, including the American Bar Association. The American people were represented by the U. S. Solicitor General, with supporting briefs filed by two groups of state attorneys general and the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. In a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, CJLF argued that the Constitution gives Congress the authority to limit the right of federal habeas corpus for noncitizens. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling to the contrary violates the separation of powers and is invalid. Thuraissigiam’s attorneys relied on a 2008 Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, where a one-vote majority of the Court extended some constitutional rights to aliens detained at Guantanamo Bay to challenge their detention. In its brief, the Foundation argued that this “deeply flawed” ruling gave rights to aliens “living in the United States,” or at least in territory under its control, not aliens who just stepped across a U. S. border. Extending that ruling to include Thuraissigiam would have compounded an already improper intrusion into congressional authority.

“The constitutional privilege of habeas corpus is for people challenging the government’s right to hold them in custody, not its right to remove an alien to his own country. Whether border jumpers will be allowed to sue the government in our courts to avoid removal is for Congress, not the courts, to decide,” said CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.