Director, Center for Supreme Court AdvocacyNational Association of Attorneys General
This Report summarizes opinions issued on May 16 and 23, 2022 (Part I); and cases granted review on May 16, 2022 (Part II).
Opinion: Patel v. Garland, 20-979
Patel v. Garland, 20-979. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review factual determinations made during discretionary-relief immigration proceedings under 8 U.S.C. §1255 and the other provisions enumerated in 8 U.S.C. §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). Pankajkumar Patel entered the United States unlawfully with his wife and later applied for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status under 8 U.S.C. §1255. While that request was pending, Patel completed an application to renew his Georgia driver’s license and checked a box stating he was a U.S. citizen. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services deemed the checked box to be a misrepresentation about citizenship, rendering Patel and his wife (whose status was based on Patel’s status) ineligible for green cards. During removal proceedings that followed, an immigration judge found that the misrepresentation was intentional, denied Patel’s request for adjustment of status, and ordered deportation. The Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that the immigration judge’s factual findings were not clearly erroneous and dismissed Patel’s appeal. Patel petitioned the Eleventh Circuit for review. The en banc Eleventh Circuit ultimately held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Patel’s claim, ruling that all factual determinations made as part of considering a request for discretionary relief are excluded from judicial review under 8 U.S.C. §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). That provision prohibits judicial review of “any judgment regarding the granting of relief” in discretionary relief proceedings such as those involving adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. In an opinion by Justice Barrett, the Court affirmed.
The Court explained that “[t]he outcome of this case largely turns on the scope of the word ‘judgment’” in §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). The Court analyzed text surrounding the word to assess its scope and adopted the interpretation provided by amicus curiae appointed by the Court to defend the Eleventh Circuit ruling after the federal government declined to do so. Amicus contended “that ‘judgment’ means any authoritative decision, which means that “§1252(a)(2)(B)(i)’s prohibition ‘encompasses any and all decisions relating to the granting or denying’ of discretionary relief. Factual findings fall within this category, amicus says, so the courts lack jurisdiction to review them.” (Citations omitted.) That interpretation, said the Court, is the only one that “fits §1252(a)(2)(B)(i)’s text and context” and “does not restrict itself to certain kinds of decisions.” As stated by the Court, “the word ‘any’ has an expansive meaning” and “means that the provision applies to judgments of whatever kind under §1255, not just discretionary judgments or the last-in-time judgment.” (Internal quotation marks and citations omitted.) Similarly, the Court viewed “regarding” to have a “’broadening effect, ensuring that the scope of a provision covers not only its subject but also matters relating to that subject.’” (Citation omitted.) Based on this understanding, the Court concluded that the prohibition on judicial review of judgments in discretionary relief proceedings “plainly includes factual findings” leading up to that judgment.
Next, the Court found that, “[i]n contrast to amicus’ straightforward interpretation, both the government’s and Patel’s arguments read like elaborate efforts to avoid the most natural meaning of the text.” The government argued that “‘judgment’ refers exclusively to a discretionary decision . . . that is ‘subjective or evaluative,’” and that the statute does not include the factual findings in this case. The Court rejected that argument, insisting that “[t]o succeed, the Government must show that in context, the kind of judgment to which §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) refers is discretionary.” The Court added that if Congress had intended the limitation proposed by the government, it could have articulated that in the text. Patel argued more narrowly, contending that the prohibition on judicial review applies to the ultimate decision to grant or deny discretionary relief, but does not prevent judicial review of the “first-step decisions” about whether one is eligible to pursue discretionary relief or not. The Court disagreed, stating that “Patel cannot square his interpretation with the text of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i),” because Patel’s interpretation “reads ‘regarding’ out of the statute entirely,” and is “further undermine[d]” by context.
In response to the dissent’s suggestion that the ruling would preclude judicial review of all USCIS denials of discretionary relief, the Court stated that although the matter was not before it, “foreclosing judicial review unless and until removal proceedings are initiated would be consistent with Congress’ choice to reduce procedural protections in the context of discretionary relief.” The Court also rejected claims from Patel and the government “that the statute is ambiguous enough to trigger the presumption that Congress did not intend to foreclose judicial review,” responding that the text and context of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) overcome any interpretive presumption.
Justice Gorsuch dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. He viewed the majority decision as “promising dire consequences for countless lawful immigrants” by leaving courts powerless to correct even the most “egregious factual mistakes about an individual’s statutory eligibility for relief.” Stated the dissent, “Today, the Court holds that a federal bureaucracy can make an obvious factual error, one that will result in an individual’s removal from this country, and nothing can be done about it.” And Justice Gorsuch pointed to such a factual mistake here: The immigration judge said that Patel had an incentive to lie on his driver’s license form because he could not have obtained a Georgia driver’s license if he had disclosed he was “neither a citizen [n]or a lawful permanent resident”―but that was incorrect.
The dissent agreed with Patel’s theory of a two-step process that first requires a determination of eligibility (subject to judicial review) and then a discretionary grant or denial of relief (not subject to judicial review). He emphasized that §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) “renders unreviewable only those judgments ‘regarding the granting of relief.’” Continuing, the dissent explained that “where, as here, the BIA issues a judgment only at step one, it never reaches the question whether to grant relief or supply some redress or benefit. Instead, the agency resolves only the antecedent question whether an individual is statutorily eligible to petition for relief, redress, or a benefit. As the BIA has explained, a judgment at step one can never ‘result in a grant of the application.’ Any ‘judgment regarding the granting of relief’ comes only at step two where the INA expressly vests the Attorney General with substantial discretion.” (Citation omitted.) Further, the dissent called out the majority for “depend[ing] on a Court-appointed amicus who offers arguments for the government that even the government refuses to advance on its own behalf” and whose “arguments hinge on a narrow exception to the usual rule of judicial review.”