Esquivel-Quintana: It’s Great to Have Friends!

Last week, a number of organizations joined forces to file three separate amicus briefs in support of our case – Esquivel-Quintana v. Lynch – before the Supreme Court.  Amicus briefs, or “friend of the court” briefs, are legal arguments submitted to the court that focus on certain aspects of the case that are particularly important to the persons or organizations submitting the briefs.

After reading these three amicus briefs, my client and I are very grateful to have such great “friends of the court.”

For more information about the case, please visit our dedicated page.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed an amicus brief, detailing the reasons why the Supreme Court should consider ruling in our favor on the basis of the Criminal Rule of Lenity.  

(I’d like to thank NACDL for presenting an excellent amicus brief in support of our case.  But I’d also like to thank them for being the only organization to file an earlier amicus brief in support of our case, and at an even more crucial time – when we were asking the Supreme Court to agree to hear our case.)

When we presented Juan’s case before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Judge Jeffrey Sutton was particularly interested in the Criminal Rule of Lenity.  It is worth noting that Judge Sutton had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a strong supporter of the Criminal Rule of Lenity.  We lost at the Sixth Circuit by a 2-1 vote. Judge Sutton, in dissent, wrote a powerful argument that we should have won the case based on the Criminal Rule of Lenity.  The Supreme Court has a number of different ways in which it could decide our case, and the Criminal Rule of Lenity is one important way.

Another option is for the Court to conclude that, when Congress amended the immigration law to include the phrase “sexual abuse of a minor” in the list of aggravated felonies, Congress intended that phrase to be defined by a federal law titled “sexual abuse of a minor or ward.”  That is the main argument in another powerful amicus brief, submitted by a coalition of three organizations:  The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG).  (An extra shout-out to NIPNLG, whose brilliant attorneys also provided a wonderful amicus brief in our case at the Sixth Circuit.)  This amicus brief details the process in which the immigration law and the criminal law were amended by Congress, and makes an elegant argument that, based partly on the timing of the amendments of the immigration and the criminal laws, Congress intended that the phrase “sexual abuse of a minor” in the immigration law to be defined by the statute at 18 U.S.C. Section 2243.

Finally, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) argue in their amicus brief that another canon of statutory construction – the “rule of immigration lenity” – should be employed to construe immigration law in favor of noncitizens where, as here, the consequence of an “aggravated felony,” banishment from the United States for life, is overly harsh and a grossly unfair punishment for a conviction for conduct that is perfectly legal under federal law and in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  (And another “thank you” to NIJC for providing an excellent amicus brief earlier at the Sixth Circuit.)

The amicus brief filed by NIJC and AILA also argue that immigration judges should be allowed the discretion to consider noncitizen’s applications for relief from removal, such as asylum, cancellation of removal, and other forms of relief in Immigration Court.  These forms of relief are unavailable to persons whose convictions are labeled as “aggravated felonies.”  The amicus brief ends with some compelling examples of other noncitizens whose low-level criminal convictions place them in jeopardy of being banished forever as “aggravated felons.”

We are deeply grateful to the organizations who dedicated their precious resources of time, experience, great effort, and superior intellect to prepare and present amicus briefs in support of our case.  We are very fortunate to have such great “friends of the court.”  Thank you.

We look forward to the oral argument at the Supreme Court on February 27, 2017.

For more information about the case, please visit our dedicated page.  Thank you.

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