SCOTUS Socks It to Feds|Over Drug Deportation

     (CN) – A Tunisian man’s possession of four unidentified pills in one of his socks is not sufficient grounds to deport him, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
     The ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reversed an 8th Circuit ruling that upheld the deportation of a legal immigrant on drug paraphernalia charges.
     Moones Mellouli, a Tunisian national, came to the United State on a student visa a decade ago and went on to earn two master’s degrees before becoming a mathematics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
     He was convicted in 2010 of a misdemeanor charge of using a sock to conceal his possession of four orange tablets that he later admitted were Adderall, a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was sentenced to a suspended term of 359 days and 12 months’ probation.
     But that wasn’t the end of Mellouli’s troubles. He was subsequently deported under a federal law, Section 1227(a)(2)(B)(1) of Title 8, which permits the government to remove noncitizens convicted of violating any state or federal law related to a controlled substance.
     The decision disturbed Justice Ginsburg and her colleagues in the majority who found that the Board of Immigration Appeals applies a disparate approach to drug possession and distribution offenses and paraphernalia possession cases.
     These conflicting positions have resulted in “the anomalous result of treating minor paraphernalia possession offenses more harshly than drug possession and distribution offenses,” Ginsburg wrote. “The incongruous upshot is that an alien is not removable for possessing a substance controlled only under Kansas law, but he is removable for possessing for using a sock to contain that substance.
     “Because it makes scant sense, the BIA’s interpretation is owed no deference …” she continued. “The Government’s interpretation of the statute is similarly flawed.”
     Ginsburg said the federal government’s reading of the law at issue stretches its construction to the “breaking point” and contradicts a clear reading of the law’s text, which clearing “limits the meaning of ‘controlled substance’ for removal purposes.”
     The Supreme Court has a history of overturning such deportation, most recently in 2013, when they ruled that an immigrant found with 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car could not be convicted on a felony charge of drug dealing if there was no evidence he was selling his pot.
     Only Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the 7-2 ruling.
     In his dissent, Justice Thomas says the majority erred by shooting down the federal government’s interpretation of the statute without offering any interpretation of its own.
     “Lower courts are thus left to guess which convictions qualify an alien for removal under 8. U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(B)(1); and the majority has deprived them of their only guide: the statutory text itself,” he wrote. “Because the statute renders an alien removable whenever he is convicted of violating a law ‘relating to’ a federally controlled substance, I would affirm.”

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