Immigrants detained pending deportation are not entitled to bond hearings every six months under federal law. That’s the decision by a closely divided Supreme Court on Tuesday, reversing a contrary 2015 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Battle of Statutory Interpretation

While the Supreme Court makes headlines and history for sweeping constitutional decisions, this case, Jennings v. Rodriguez, was decided on more common statutory grounds. The now reversed Ninth Circuit’s decision held that federal immigration laws required a bond hearing for detained aliens every six months during detention.

It’s a reasonable enough idea, but not one that a natural reading of the statutes at issue provided for. The Ninth Circuit relied on what lawyers call the constitutional avoidance doctrine to read the bond hearing provision into the statutes, as opposed to, say, finding it somewhere in the constitution.

And that was a problem. Calling out the Ninth Circuit for its “implausible constructions,” Justice Alito relied on the statutory text to conclude that the laws that didn’t provide for bond hearings… didn’t provide for bond hearings.

That’s a simple way to reach a clear conclusion. While the Ninth Circuit may have reasoned that avoiding a constitutional decision was for the best, it also handed a clear ‘that’s not what the text says’ argument to opponents. And at the Supreme Court these days, that’s like waving a red flag to a bull.

A Long Delayed Detention Case

This case has been long awaited by court watchers. It was initially heard before Justice Gorsuch joined the court, and at the time the court deadlocked over the issue. With Gorsuch on the court and Justice Kagan recusing herself, the math lined up for today’s final decision.

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