The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants held in detention have no right to periodic bail hearings, no matter how long their detention lasts.
The vote was 5-3, with conservative justices in the majority. Justice Elena Kagan previously recused herself.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the detention of people seeking asylum or fighting deportation was needed to give immigration officials time “to determine an alien’s status without running the risk of the alien’s either absconding or engaging in criminal activity.”
Justice Breyer responded that the decision was most likely “the first time ever” that the Supreme Court had interpreted a federal law to allow the long-term confinement of people held in the United States and accused of misconduct without an opportunity to obtain bail. “An ‘opportunity,’ I might add, does not necessarily mean release, for there may be a risk of flight or harm that would justify denying bail,” he said from the bench.
The attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the immigrants in Tuesday's case, Ahilan Arulanantham, said he was disappointed with the ruling.
“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” he said. “We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances.”
But attorney Richard A. Samp with the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed a brief on behalf of 29 members of Congress, said the decision was a win for the public:
“When Congress determines that the best way to prevent aliens convicted of felonies from repeating their crimes is to lock them up until they can be deported,” he said, “lower courts don’t have the authority to second-guess that determination by attempting to rewrite the law.”
The case now returns to the lower courts, where Arulanantham said they will argue that detention without hearings violates the due process clause.