The Chief Justice and several other SCOTUS members were taken aback by the Trump administration’s very hard line making naturalized citizens vulnerable to deportation.
It hasn’t gotten as much attention as the agitation over the border wall, “sanctuary cities,” deportation policy, and other administration measures aimed at dealing with undocumented immigrants. But the Trump administration is quietly supporting efforts to reduce legal immigration as well, which is one hallmark of the true nativist, who is worried not just about lawbreaking but about the changing demographics of the country.
The Supreme Court may have gotten a glimpse of this new attitude just yesterday in oral arguments for a case involving a naturalized citizen from Serbia who was deported after it became clear she had failed to disclose her husband’s involvement in Bosnian Serb militias committing atrocities back in the 1990s.
As Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog explained, the petitioner in Maslenjak v. United States was not a particularly sympathetic figure, but the very hard line taken by the Justice Department in the case seemed to be inclining even some conservative justices to give her a second chance, if only to establish a reasonable standard for deportations based on mendacity in citizenship applications.
Although they may not have been fans of Maslenjak personally … the justices were even less enthusiastic about the prospect of ruling for the government, expressing concern that such a ruling would give U.S. officials boundless discretion to take away citizenship based on even very minor lies.
Indeed, some of the Justices expressed, as the New York Times’ Adam Liptak put it, “indignation and incredulity” at Justice Department attorney Robert Parker’s unflinching contention that any evidence of a failure to disclose not only crimes but lies in citizenship applications could be grounds for revoking citizenship. And this reaction was by no means confined to SCOTUS “liberals.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. tried to test the limits of the government’s position at a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday by confessing to a criminal offense.
“If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all’?” Chief Justice Roberts asked.
Parker agreed that could happen, and the Chief Justice said: “Oh, come on.”
Other Justices found some grim humor in the government’s position:
Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked about the failure to disclose an embarrassing childhood nickname. Justice Elena Kagan said she was a “little bit horrified to know that every time I lie about my weight it has those kinds of consequences.”
Mr. Parker said the law applied to all false statements, even trivial ones.
But Justice Kennedy was not amused:
“Your argument is demeaning the priceless value of citizenship,” he told Mr. Parker.
It doesn’t look like the administration is going to win this one.
But more important, it’s another illustration that whenever it can get away with it, the Trump administration is taking a position on immigration that only Steve King could love.