(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 7-2 that courts should consider traditional stay factors when deciding whether to suspend an alien’s removal order, rather than the sharper restrictions established by immigration law.
The justices vacated the 4th Circuit’s refusal to stay a removal order for Cameroon native Jean Marc Nken. The Board of Immigration Appeals had ordered him removed, and the federal appeals court in Virginia denied his first two motions to reopen removal proceedings.
Nken tried a third time, citing changed circumstances in Cameroon that made his persecution more likely. He then moved to stay the removal order while the courts considered the legality of his removal.
He acknowledged that, under immigration law, he was required to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the order “was prohibited as a matter of law.”
But he argued that traditional stay factors – and not the stricter standard established by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act – should govern his request.
The Act sharply restricts the ability for aliens to obtain injunction relief.
The government countered that a stay is simply a form of injunction, so the Act’s limits on injunctive relief apply.
Chief Justice Roberts rejected the government’s view that an alien’s petition for a stay was the same as a request for an injunction.
“Whether such a stay might technically be called an injunction is beside the point; that is not the label by which it is generally known. The sun may be a star, but ‘starry sky’ does not refer to a bright summer day.”
The majority concluded that the terminology of the Act does not “comfortably cover” stays.
Justice Alito dissented, saying the majority decision “nullifies an important statutory provision that Congress enacted when it reformed the immigration laws in 1996.” Justice Thomas joined the dissenting opinion.