In today’s polarized America, Supreme Court cases are rarely decided unanimously. Rarer yet is a case that is a defeat for the left. However, this is what happened in the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith.
Evelyn Sineneng-Smith operated an “immigration counseling firm” in San Jose, California. Even though she was not a lawyer, her firm assisted those who had violated U.S. immigration law.
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A Fraudulent Scheme
Evelyn Sineneng-Smith’s firm was a fraudulent enterprise. Her “clients” were illegal Filipino immigrants who provided home health care services. Between 2001 and 2008, she helped them to complete applications for a “labor certification program” to remain in the U.S. legally. She charged $5,900 to file with the Department of Labor and another $900 for filing with the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
She knew those applications would never be accepted because the program expired on April 30, 2001. She also, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “encouraged victims to overstay the time allowed under their tourist visas and work illegally in residential healthcare facilities.”
The prosecutors charged her with multiple violations of 8 U. S. C. §1324, which makes it a federal felony to “encourag[e] or induc[e] an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.” She was found guilty of urging someone to violate the immigration law.
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Joseph Vincent, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations, San Jose, reacted to the conviction. “Those who corrupt the integrity of our nation’s legal immigration system must understand there are serious consequences for those actions. We will continue to work with our counterparts to investigate those who manipulate and exploit that system for their own personal financial gain.”
Leftists Try to Make Fraud into Virtue
On the left, simple facts seldom remain simple. When Sineneng-Smith appealed her conviction to the notoriously leftist Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge A. Wallace Tashima invited three left-wing legal advocacy groups to construct a stronger case than that which the defendant had argued. The Federal Defender Organizations of the Ninth Circuit, the Immigrant Defense Project, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs. Judge Tashima used those briefs to overturn the conviction.
A brief quotation from Judge Tashima’s ruling illustrates this point. “We begin with an obvious example from one of the amicus briefs: ‘a loving grandmother who urges her grandson to overstay his visa,’ by telling him ‘I encourage you to stay.’ Nothing in [the law] would prevent the grandmother from facing felony charges for her statement…. Just because the grandmother wanted her words to encourage her grandson and said them directly to him does not render those words less protected under the First Amendment.”
Appeal to the Supreme Court
The U.S. prosecutors then appealed to the Supreme Court. Leftists found the curious right to urge people to commit crimes. Slate quoted an attorney with the National Lawyers’ Guild Khaled Alrabe of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. He was worried about the possibility that attorneys will be too afraid of prosecution to give accurate legal advice. “It’s ultimately terrible for the undocumented individuals,” said Alrabe, “because attorneys may withhold important information out of fear.”
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Thomas Knapp of the website CounterPunch reacted in a display of oversimplification. “Their [the Federal prosecutors] case seems to be that we obviously can’t just have people out there saying whatever they want to say.” The author presented the challenge: “I encourage anyone and everyone who wants to come to the United States in search of work and/or safety to do so, and to stay here for as long as they please, whether the U.S. government likes it or not. I just broke the law.”
A Rare Unanimous Decision
The Supreme Court responded with a stunning unanimous decision. Moreover, the Court’s opinion was written by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel had given more consideration to the briefs it requested from the three organizations than it did to the arguments of the parties of the case.
The Justices said clearly, “No extraordinary circumstances justified the panel’s takeover of the appeal…. Electing not to address the party-presented controversy, the panel projected that [the law] might cover a wide swath of protected speech, including political advocacy, legal advice, even a grandmother’s plea to her alien grandchild to remain in the United States.” They concluded, “[T]he Ninth Circuit’s radical transformation of this case goes well beyond the pale.”
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In other words, the Ninth Circuit panel ignored the case in front of them, created a different case, and then ruled on the case that they created. It is the rough equivalent of the student who ignored the essay question on the test and wrote the answer to the question that he wished the teacher had asked.
This is an important decision for three reasons.
First, no one, not even an attorney, should be telling others how to break the law. A real sense of order demands that freedom of speech be limited when urging others to violate just laws. If a person believes that a law should be changed, that person is free to advocate such a change. Indeed, an unjust law might make it a duty to demand change.
Second, a new form of judicial activism was clipped back in this court case. Ever since the days of Chief Justice Earl Warren (1953-1969), federal courts on all levels have reached far beyond their authority. This is a minor victory, but it creates hope that some sense of judicial restraint may be creeping back into the courts. The unanimity of the Supreme Court, in this case, is a hopeful sign.
Third, despite occasional exceptions, the federal courts have opened the door to many disordered interpretations of the law. Pornography, contraception, procured abortion, same-sex “marriage” and now “transsexual” rights have all been aided by courts compliant to leftist demands. A legal “right” to openly advocate violations of the law would have been a valuable tool for the left. Fortunately, it has been taken out of their hands.