Taking up the case of a group of Palestinian activists from Los Angeles, the Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear the government's charge that judges are barred from blocking a move to deport immigrants, even when they are targeted for their political views.
The case, to be heard in the fall, gives the high court its first look at provisions of the 1996 immigration law in which Congress closed the courthouse door to immigrants who are facing possible deportation.
Frustrated at long delays in deportations, Congress took away the power of judges to hear such cases. "No court shall have jurisdiction to hear any cause or claim by or on behalf of any alien arising from" the government's move to seek deportation, the law says. The only exception is for a final deportation order. Then, a U.S. court of appeals is empowered to review the evidence.
For more than a decade, however, the so-called "L.A. 8" have succeeded in staving off deportation and winning a series of victories in the federal courts in California.
In 1987, seven Palestinians and one Kenyan were arrested and held for possible deportation because they were raising money for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department and the eight were charged with supporting terrorism.
But their lawyers noted that the PFLP engages in a wide array of lawful activities such as education, day care, health care and sponsorship of publications. The eight said that they had done nothing illegal in the United States and were being targeted for punishment because of their political views.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles, as well as the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, agreed in multiple rulings. They blocked the deportation proceedings and said that the 1st Amendment does not permit "guilt by association."
In its latest ruling, the appeals court agreed with the government that the 1996 law closes the courthouse door to most challenges to deportation. However, it also ruled that constitutional claims are the exception. Because the Palestinians say that they were targeted because of their political beliefs in violation of the 1st Amendment, their challenge can go forward, the 9th Circuit said.
The Clinton administration appealed, arguing that neither Wilson nor the 9th Circuit had the authority to intervene in the deportations. These judges "have flouted clear statutory limitations on their own jurisdiction and have imposed wholly unwarranted constraints on the executive branch," U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman stated to the high court.
In a brief order Monday, the justices agreed to hear the government's appeal in the case (Reno vs. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, 97-1252).
Georgetown University law professor David D. Cole, who has represented the Palestinians, said he will argue that the protection of the 1st Amendment trumps the jurisdictional limit imposed by Congress.
"Millions of American citizens and immigrants 'associate' with the NRA, the ACLU, the Boy Scouts or labor unions by paying dues, donating funds or raising money," he said. "Soliciting and donating funds is a form of constitutionally protected political association."
Meanwhile, the court sidestepped a ruling on whether the Israeli lobby is a "political committee" under federal election law.
If it is, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee would have to disclose in detail its membership, contributors and expenditures.
Several who oppose the group's stand had filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission insisting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee be classified as a political committee, even though it does not give money to candidates.
The FEC rejected the complaint, but a U.S. court of appeals in Washington revived it on the grounds that the committee made phone calls and sent letters that were worth more than $1,000 in campaign expenditures.
In a split decision Monday, the justices agreed that the challengers had standing to bring their complaint to the FEC. However, the high court overturned the appeals court decision and sent the case (FEC vs. Akins, 96-1590) back to the FEC to be reconsidered under new regulations.
* POLICE SUIT
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