Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Blockbuster Case Day

A bunch of big decisions came down from the Supreme Court today. The most important one, U.S v. Booker, is also the one I have the least to say about. Booker ruled that the controversial Blakely v. Washington decision applied to federal sentencing guidelines. From my vague recollections, Blakely held that Washington's sentencing guidelines were unconstitutional because they allowed for judges to make "upward departures" (IE, sentences higher than what was recommended by the guidelines), instead of referring the matter to juries. However, Booker didn't entirely toss out the guidelines, but it instead made them into ACTUAL guidelines: advisory, not mandatory. I'm not an expert on Blakely, but I do dislike federal sentencing guidelines. So until I read the opinion closely (it's 124 pages), I'll call this a victory.

The next case was Jama v. INS. The INS wished to deport Mr. Jama to Somalia, but as many readers know, Somalia doesn't have a functioning government. Jama protested that therefore the government couldn't "consent" to his deportation, and therefore he couldn't be sent there. This case particularly interests me, as one of the organizations aiding Jama in his case (Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights) presented in front of my "International Perspectives on Human Rights" class last term. When I inquired about the case, they said that they were confident based on oral argument that Jama would prevail. Apparently, they misread the situation, because the Court rejected Jama's claim by a 5-4 margin. Another point of interest in the Jama case is a quote by Judge Morris Arnold Shepard in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing of the case, currently residing in my AIM profile:
"We note...that between countries, it is not uncommon behavior to attempt to accomplish a task by asking politely first, and then to act anyway if the request is refused."

Too true.

Cases such as these always revolve around complex areas of statutory and immigration law, of which I am ill-qualified to comment on. However, I am seriously disturbed at the possibility of deporting someone to Somalia. A country like that, which is in the midst of an anarchic civil war and doesn't even approach "functionality," is hardly a place we would send even hardened criminals. I don't know whether Jama committed a crime or not, but I wouldn't wish that fate on anybody, let alone someone who may have just been fleeing war and oppression.

Finally, we get to Clark v. Martinez. Speaking by way of Justice Scalia, the Court ruled that illegal immigrants facing deportation cannot be detained indefinitely if there deportation is not likely to occur in the foreseeable future (for example, aliens from Cuba). Six months was the guideline given for detentions, though the Court held open the possibility of exceptions in extenuating circumstances. When I first glanced over the summary, I thought the Court had allowed for indefinite detention, and I found it amusing(/troubling) that the Court would offer less protection to illegal immigrants than it did to suspected terrorists (see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld). I'm glad the Court didn't take that step, and I think that Justice O'Connor's concurrence (noting that there might be acceptable situations where one could detain an alien beyond six months) struck the right balance. The point is to create manageable and effective, but humane guidelines, not to place security on a pedestal at any price to liberty.

Edit: Jama was 5-4, not 7-2. I apologze for the error.

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