The case was brought by Alejandro Rodriguez, a lawful permanent resident who came to the country as an infant. The Department of Homeland Security started removal proceedings because of a conviction for drug possession and an earlier conviction for joyriding.
At issue for the court is whether immigrants slated for deportation have the right to a bail hearing and possible release after six months if they are not a flight risk and pose no danger to the public.
A lawyer for the Justice Department told the high court that noncitizens — whether documented or undocumented immigrants — have no constitutional right to be in the United States.
The justices were taking a second look at the issue after an evenly divided court could not reach a decision last term and scheduled the case for reargument. With Justice Neil M. Gorsuch having joined the bench since then, he could cast the deciding vote.
The case reached the high court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that immigrants fighting deportation are entitled to bond hearings if they have been held for more than six months. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, representing a group of noncitizens held for more than a year without a hearing, told the Supreme Court that the outcome of the case will affect thousands of people held in jail-like detention centers.
The Supreme Court has previously held that undocumented immigrants are entitled to some form of due process when contesting their detention but also that “brief” detentions were allowed. Courts have interpreted those rulings in different ways, with the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, for instance, requiring more procedural safeguards for those who would be held for months or even years.