This Report summarizes opinions issued on June 13, 2022 (Part I).
Opinion: Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez, 20-322
Garland v. Aleman Gonzalez, 20-322. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the Immigration and Nationality Act bars federal district courts from hearing detained immigrants’ requests for classwide injunctive relief under certain provisions of the Act. Respondents Aleman Gonzalez and Tejada are named plaintiffs in separate federal class actions against the United States regarding prolonged detention under 8 U.S.C. §1231(a)(6) after unlawfully entering the United States. They are awaiting hearings before an immigration judge to assess withholding of removal based upon fear of facing persecution or torture if returned to their countries of origin. In addition to certifying the classes, the district courts held that the class members were entitled to bond hearings after six months’ detention and issued injunctive relief. The Ninth Circuit affirmed and the government petitioned the Court for certiorari “to decide whether an alien detained under 8 U.S.C. §1231(a)(6) is entitled to a bond hearing.” The Court granted certiorari and instructed the parties “to address the threshold question whether the District Courts had jurisdiction to entertain respondents’ requests for class-wide injunctive relief.” In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court ruled “that the District Courts exceeded their jurisdiction in awarding such relief,” and reversed and remanded.
The Court resolved the threshold question about the propriety of classwide relief by dissecting §1252(f)(1), which addresses limits on injunctive relief. Under §1252(f)(1), “no court (other than the Supreme Court) shall have jurisdiction or authority to enjoin or restrain the operation of the provisions . . . other than with respect to the application of such provisions to an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated.” (Emphasis added.) The Court analyzed the words and phrases therein and determined that “‘to enjoin’ ordinarily means to ‘require,’ ‘command,’ or ‘positively direct’ an action or to ‘require a person to perform, . . . or to abstain or desist from, some act.’” (Citation omitted.) “’[T]o restrain’ means to ‘check, hold back, or prevent (a person or thing) from some course of action.’” The object of those verbs, the “operation of,” denotes ”the functioning of or working of ([a] thing).” “Putting these terms together,” the Court concluded, “§1252(f)(1) generally prohibits lower courts from entering injunctions that order federal officials to take or to refrain from taking actions to enforce, implement, or otherwise carry out the specified statutory provisions.” A carve-out exists, however, and §1252(f)(1) does not prohibit injunctive relief when “remedying the unlawful ‘application’ of the relevant statutes to ‘an individual alien.’” Thus, the Court concluded that the district-court injunctions granting classwide relief interfered with Government’s efforts to operate §1231(a)(6) by “requir[ing] officials to take actions that . . . are not required by §1231(a)(6) and to refrain from actions that . . . are allowed by §1231(a)(6).”
Responding to respondents’ counterarguments, the Court rejected the idea that “‘the operation’ of the covered immigration provisions means the operation of those provisions ‘as properly interpreted’ and that what §1252(f)(1) bars are class-wide injunctions that prohibit the Government from doing what the statute allows or commands.” The majority concluded that that argument ran counter to “the most natural interpretation of the term ‘operation,’” because “it is very common to refer to the ‘unlawful’ or ‘improper’ operation of whatever it is that is being operated.’” To support that conclusion, the Court offered a long string-cite with parentheticals referencing “unlawful operation” of a variety of things including planes, trains, and automobiles. The Court further declared that statutory context weighed against respondents’ reading of §1252(f)(1) because it makes the reach of the statute “depend on the nature of the claim in question,” and “clashes with §1252(f)(1)’s prefatory clause, which states that the bar applies ‘[r]egardless of the nature of the action or claim.’” The Court also dispensed with arguments that would largely limit §1252(f)(1)’s restriction to constitutional claims or make a request for classwide injunctive relief dependent upon the merits of the claim. Nor did the Court accept respondents’ arguments that §1252(f)(1) allows classwide relief “so long as all the class members are ‘individuals who already face the enforcement action’” or that the express bar on class actions in a nearby statutory provision means that the absence of such language means class actions are permitted under §1252(f)(1). The Court concluded that the “most plausible reading” of §1252(f)(1) is that it only allows injunctive relief on an individualized basis.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Kagan in whole and Justice Breyer in part, concurred in the judgment but dissented in part. Justice Sotomayor “concur[red] in the judgment because the Government prevails on the merits,” as discussed in a contemporaneously issued decision, Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez, 596 U.S. __ (2022), but she believed “the courts below retained their equitable authority to issue classwide injunctive relief.” In her view, the majority’s “blinkered analysis” “elevates piecemeal dictionary definitions and policy concerns over plain meaning and context.” She highlighted the fact that the government did not question whether the district court had authority to grant classwide injunctive relief. Conducting her own statutory analysis, she began with §1252(f)(1)’s two operative clauses, which she believed “independently preserve the lower courts’ authority to order classwide relief”: (1) “a primary clause that strips courts of authority ‘to enjoin or restrain the operation of’ the specified provisions of the INA,” and (2) “a saving clause that reserves that authority as applied to a noncitizen ‘against whom proceedings . . . have been initiated.’” Justice Sotomayor agreed with the majority’s interpretation of “operation,” but disagreed that an injunction requiring compliance or demanding the cessation of unauthorized conduct would somehow interfere with the functioning or working of the statute. She also subscribed to respondents’ argument on the relevance of nearby provisions divesting courts of jurisdiction to certify a class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the absence of such language in §1252(f)(1), noting that all these provisions “were enacted as part of a unified overhaul of judicial review procedures.” (Citation omitted.) And while recognizing that “enjoin” can describe a prohibition or an affirmative command, Justice Sotomayor reasoned that “clear textual signals [in §1252(f)(1)] point to the conclusion that ‘enjoin’ refers to a prohibition on the operation of a statute.” Thus, in her view, “the most natural and contextual reading of the provision’s primary clause does not limit federal courts’ authority to enjoin or restrain agency action unauthorized by statute, or to compel agency action commanded by a statute.”
Justice Breyer joined Justices Sotomayor and Kagan’s discussion of the saving clause. In their view, §1252(f)(1) does not impose a barrier on classwide relief because class actions are “a collection of individual claims” and per Court precedent, “[c]lass relief is consistent with the need for case-by-case adjudication.” They referred back to the absence of language regarding Rule 23 and class actions in §1252(f)(1) as compared to the inclusion of such language in nearby provisions. In response to the government’s argument that this reading of the statute “renders the word ‘individual’ superfluous,” the Justices quoted Court precedent stating that “’[s]ometimes the better overall reading of the statute contains some redundancy,’ however, as Congress may ‘emplo[y] a belt and suspenders approach’ to ensure its aims are met.” (Citation omitted.) The Justices further asserted that the majority’s reasoning “risks depriving many vulnerable noncitizens of any meaningful opportunity to protect their rights.” They maintained that permitting classwide relief would help mitigate the challenges and burdens of “contesting systematic violations of [noncitizens’] rights through discrete, collateral, federal-court proceedings,” without which violations may go unremedied.