Court raises bar for some immigrants to avoid deportation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court last Thursday made it harder for longtime immigrants who have been convicted of a crime to avoid deportation.
Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for a 5-3 conservative majority that ruled against a Mexican citizen who entered the U.S. illegally and has lived in the country for 25 years.

The man, Clemente Avelino Pereida, had been charged in Nebraska with using a fraudulent Social Security card to get a job and convicted under a state law against criminal impersonation.

Not all criminal convictions inevitably lead to deportation, but Gorsuch wrote for the court that Pereida failed to prove he was not convicted of a serious crime.

Under immigration law, "certain nonpermanent aliens seeking to cancel a lawful removal order must prove that they have not been convicted of a disqualifying crime," Gorsuch wrote.

In a dissent for the three liberal justices, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court instead should have ruled for Pereida because he was convicted under a law that includes serious offenses, falling into the category of crimes of moral turpitude, and less serious ones.

"The relevant documents in this case do not show that the previous conviction at issue necessarily was for a crime involving moral turpitude," Breyer wrote.

Immigrants with criminal convictions who are facing deportation can ask the attorney general to allow them to remain in the country, if the conviction wasn't for a serious crime
and they have lived here at least 10 years, among other criteria.

Based last Thursday's ruling, Pereida can't seek that relief.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case because she had not yet joined the court when the case was argued in October.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivers 1st opinion

By Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered her first Supreme Court majority opinion last Thursday, ruling against an environmental group that had sought access to government records.

President Donald Trump's third nominee wrote for a 7-2 court that certain draft documents do not have to be disclosed under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The case was the first one Barrett heard after joining the court in late October, and it took four months for the 11-page opinion  to be released. Two liberal justices, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

It is something of a tradition for new justices to be assigned a case in which the court is unanimous for their first opinion, but it doesn't always happen. Both of Trump's other nominees, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wrote unanimous first opinions. Sotomayor also got a unanimous opinion for her first assignment, but President Barack Obama's other nominee, Justice Elena Kagan, was assigned a first opinion where the court divided 8-1.

The opinion Barrett wrote involved the environmental group the Sierra Club, which sued seeking access to federal government documents involving certain structures used to cool industrial equipment and their potential harm to endangered wildlife. Barrett began by explaining that FOIA makes "records available to the public upon request, unless those records fall within one of nine exemptions." Those exemptions include "documents generated during an agency's deliberations about a policy, as opposed to documents that embody or explain a policy that the agency adopts."

Barrett said the documents the Sierra Club was seeking were draft documents that did not need to be disclosed. And she dismissed concerns the group had raised that ruling against it would encourage officials to "stamp every document 'draft'" to avoid disclosing them. Barrett said that if "evidence establishes that an agency has hidden a functionally final decision in draft form" then it won't be protected from disclosure requirements.

Barrett's predecessor on the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, liked to recount that she was assigned a "miserable" case involving a federal law about pensions for her first opinion, a case on which the court had divided 6-3. She said that though she and the court's first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, were on different sides of the case, when she announced the opinion in court, O'Connor passed her a note that said: "This is your first opinion for the Court, it is a fine one, I look forward to many more."

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices are not currently announcing their decisions in the courtroom but only posting them online.

Barrett's opinion last Thursday was not the first writing the public has seen from her as a justice. Last month, she wrote a paragraph-long concurring opinion in a case in which the justices told the state of California that it can't bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but could maintain a ban on singing and chanting indoors.