Immigration is at the heart of a case ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court this year as the nine justices have given advocates a victory in a ruling involving the deportation of a Tunisian immigrant. Central to the case is the issue of jurisdictional cause in terms of federal agents’ ability to deport immigrants.
The court ruled in a 7-2 decision that U.S. immigration officials can’t deport convicted criminals in cases where the crime falls outside federal jurisdiction. The case involved a Tunisian immigrant who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.
Moones Mellouli—the Tunisian immigrant—came to the United States on a student visa and then earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. After his studies, he went on to teach math at the University of Missouri. Five years ago, Mellouli was arrested for driving under the influence. It’s at this time that police found pills hidden in his sock.
From a legal perspective, then, Mellouli’s sock amounted to paraphernalia. Federal immigration officials cited the conviction as sufficient reason to deport the immigrant.
Besides classifying a sock as drug paraphernalia, the case reaches new heights of lunacy considering the pills officers found were Adderrall, a common stimulant. The irony was not lost on Justice Elena Kagan, a former law school dean.
“He had four pills of Adderall,” Kagan said during oral arguments in the case as she pointed out a “decent chance” that a random selection of students in “half the colleges in America” would also turn up the pills.
In his argument to the court, Mellouli attorney Jon Laramore, said the government was guilty of extreme overreach in their case.
“Possession of paraphernalia is not a federal offense,” the attorney argued to the justices. “One cannot be prosecuted federally for possessing drug paraphernalia,” he said.
The justice sided with Mellouli and Laramore on the point. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion.
The dissent, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, emphasized immigrant responsibility to the letter of the law. In his opinion, Thomas wrote, there is “nothing absurd about removing individuals who are unwilling to respect the drug laws.”