Zadvydas v. Davis
533 U.S. 678 (2001)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 2000

Syllabus

ZADVYDAS v. DAVIS ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

No.99-7791. Argued February 21, 200l-Decided June 28, 2001*

Mter a final removal order is entered, an alien ordered removed is held in custody during a 90-day removal period. If the alien is not removed in those 90 days, the post-removal-period detention statute authorizes further detention or supervised release, subject to administrative review. Kestutis Zadvydas, petitioner in No. 99-7791-a resident alien born, apparently of Lithuanian parents, in a German displaced persons camp-was ordered deported based on his criminal record. Germany and Lithuania refused to accept him because he was not a citizen of their countries; efforts to send him to his wife's native country also failed. When he remained in custody after the removal period expired, he filed a habeas action under 28 U. S. C. § 2241. The District Court granted the writ, reasoning that, because the Government would never remove him, his confinement would be permanent, in violation of the Constitution. In reversing, the Fifth Circuit concluded that Zadvydas' detention did not violate the Constitution because eventual deportation was not impossible, good-faith efforts to remove him continued, and his detention was subject to administrative review. Kim Ho Ma, respondent in No. 00-38, is a resident alien born in Cambodia who was ordered removed based on his aggravated felony conviction. When he remained in custody after the removal period expired, he filed a § 2241 habeas petition. In ordering his release, the District Court held that the Constitution forbids post-removal-period detention unless there is a realistic chance that an alien will be removed, and that no such chance existed here because Cambodia has no repatriation treaty with the United States. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that detention was not authorized for more than a reasonable time beyond the 90-day period, and that, given the lack of a repatriation agreement, that time had expired.

Held:

1. Section 2241 habeas proceedings are available as a forum for statutory and constitutional challenges to post-removal-period detention. Statutory changes in the immigration law left habeas untouched as the

*Together with No. 00-38, Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al. v. Kim Ho Ma, on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


679

basic method for obtaining review of continued custody after a deportation order becomes final, and none of the statutory provisions limiting judicial review of removal decisions applies here. Pp. 687-688.

2. The post-removal-period detention statute, read in light of the Constitution's demands, implicitly limits an alien's detention to a period reasonably necessary to bring about that alien's removal from the United States, and does not permit indefinite detention. Pp. 688-699.

(a) A statute permitting indefinite detention would raise serious constitutional questions. Freedom from imprisonment lies at the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. Government detention violates the Clause unless it is ordered in a criminal proceeding with adequate procedural safeguards or a special justification outweighs the individual's liberty interest. The instant proceedings are civil and assumed to be nonpunitive, and the Government proffers no sufficiently strong justification for indefinite civil detention under this statute. The first justification-preventing flight-is weak or nonexistent where removal seems a remote possibility. Preventive detention based on the second justification-protecting the community-has been upheld only when limited to specially dangerous individuals and subject to strong procedural protections. When preventive detention is potentially indefinite, this dangerousness rationale must also be accompanied by some other special circumstance, such as mental illness, that helps to create the danger. The civil confinement here is potentially permanent, and once the flight risk justification evaporates, the only special circumstance is the alien's removable status, which bears no relation to dangerousness. Moreover, the sole procedural protections here are found in administrative proceedings, where the alien bears the burden of proving he is not dangerous, without (according to the Government) significant later judicial review. The Constitution may well preclude granting an administrative body unreviewable authority to make determinations implicating fundamental rights. Pp. 690-692.

(b) Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei, 345 U. S. 206-in which an alien was indefinitely detained as he attempted to reenter the country-does not support the Government's argument that alien status itself can justify indefinite detention. Once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the Due Process Clause applies to all persons within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent. Nor do cases holding that, because Congress has plenary power to create immigration law, the Judicial Branch must defer to Executive and Legislative Branch decisionmaking in that area help the Government, because that power is subject to constitutional limits. Finally, the aliens' liberty interest is not diminished by their lack of a legal right to live at large, for the choice at issue here is between imprisonment and supervision under


680
Full Text of Opinion

Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.