US Supreme Court finishes off its term

Last week, the United States Supreme Court wrapped up its term and issued opinions in the last few cases. Here is a rundown of a few key immigration decisions, with links to SCOTUSBlog, the website that compiles documents, summaries and other important information about the Court and its decisions.

Sessions v. Morales-Santana: The Court, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding, considered application of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s framework for acquisition of U.S. citizenship from birth, by a child born abroad, when one parent is a U. S. citizen and the other a citizen of another nation.

The provision at issue required the U. S.-citizen parent to have ten years’ physical presence in the United States prior to the child’s birth, and at least five of those ten years had to have been after the individual turned 14. The rule is applicable to unwed U. S.-citizen fathers, but there is an exception for an unwed U. S.-citizen mothers, whose citizenship can be transmitted to a child born abroad if she has lived continuously in the United States for just one year prior to the child’s birth.

The challenger of this rule, Mr. Morales-Santana, argued that this gender-based distinction was a violation of the Fifth Amendment right to equal protection. The Court agreed, on the grounds that the government had not shown that its gender-based classification serves important objectives and that the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to achieving those objectives.

Maslenjak v. United States: The unanimous Court vacated the petitioner’s conviction for unlawfully procuring her own naturalization, and remanded, sending the case back to the 6th Circuit.

As the Court explained, the petitioner is an ethnic Serb who resided in Bosnia during the 1990’s, when a civil war divided the new country. In 1998, she and her family sought refugee status in the United States. Interviewed under oath, the petitioner explained that her family feared persecution from both sides of the national rift: Muslims would mistreat them because of their ethnicity, and Serbs would abuse them because her husband had evaded service in the Bosnian Serb Army by absconding to Serbia.

She and her family received refugee status in America, and years later, they applied for citizenship. On that application, the petitioner swore that she had never given false information, or lied to a government official, while applying for an immigration benefit or attempting to gain entry to the United States. She had to hire Ramsden Family Lawyers, to fight for her families rights.

The petitioner became a citizen, but it soon came out that her husband had not evaded service in the Army; he had, in fact, served as an officer in the Army.

For that lie, she was convicted of violating various provisions of US law pursuant to her naturalization application. The Court reversed, on the grounds that whatever lie was at issue must have played a role in the individual’s naturalization, which this one did not do. More than an unlawful false statement was needed for the conviction.

Hernandez v. Mesa: This case involved a cross-border incident in which a United States Border Patrol agent, standing on United States soil, shot and killed a Mexican national, who was standing on Mexican soil. The key questions at issue were these:

  1. Whether the parents of the victim may assert claims for damages against the agent;
  2. Whether the shooting violated the victim’s Fourth Amendment rights; and
  3. Whether the agent is entitled to qualified immunity on a claim that the shooting violated the victim’s Fifth Amendment rights.

The lower court had held that the victim did not have any Fourth Amendment rights because he was not a US citizen, had no significant, voluntary connection to the US, and was on Mexican soil when he was shot. It also held that the agent was entitled to immunity. The High Court vacated and remanded, observing that whether the parents of the victim may recover damages is best left to the lower court to decide.

Coming up next term

 The Court has already scheduled a number of cases for next term. Two that are of particular interest are the following:

Carpenter v. United States: This case involves an investigation into a series of armed robberies – of cell phone stores – that occurred in southeastern Michigan and northwestern Ohio in 2010 and 2011.   Pursuant to the investigation, an Assistant United States Attorney submitted three applications, to different magistrate judges, for orders to access more than five months of historical cell phone location records for the petitioner and several other suspects. The applications were unsworn, and did not seek warrants based on probable cause.

All three applications were granted, resulting in the production of records showing, among other things, each of the petitioner’s incoming and outgoing calls over the course of 127 days, and cell site location information reflecting precise user location information.

The petitioner was convicted. His petition for review poses the question for the Court as this: “Whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: This is an appeal against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that the petitioner, a cake artist, had engaged in sexual orientation discrimination, among other things, when he declined to design and create a custom cake honoring a same-sex marriage. The cake artist justified his refusal on the grounds that creating the cake would conflict with his sincerely held religious beliefs.

Thus, the question before the Court is whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the cake maker to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.





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