NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Nos. 18–776 and 18–1015
PEDRO PABLO GUERRERO-LASPRILLA, PETITIONER
WILLIAM P. BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL; and
RUBEN OVALLES, PETITIONER
WILLIAM P. BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL
on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit
[March 23, 2020]
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.
Section 242(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, codified as
8 U. S. C. §1252(a), provides for judicial review of a final Government order directing the removal of an alien from this country. See
163, as amended,
8 U. S. C. §1101 et seq
. A subdivision of that section limits the scope of that review where the removal rests upon the fact that the alien has committed certain crimes, including aggravated felonies and controlled substance offenses. §1252(a)(2)(C). Another subdivision, §1252(a)(2)(D), which we shall call the Limited Review Provision, says that in such instances courts may consider only “constitutional claims or questions of law.” The question that these two consolidated cases present is whether the phrase “questions of law” in the Provision includes the application of a legal standard to undisputed or established facts. We believe that it does.
The two petitioners before us, Pedro Pablo Guerrero-Lasprilla and Ruben Ovalles, are aliens who lived in the United States. Each committed a drug crime and consequently became removable. App. 33; Record in No. 18–1015, p. 66. In 1998, an Immigration Judge ordered Guerrero-Lasprilla removed. Record in No. 18–776, p. 137. In 2004, the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered Ovalles removed, reversing a decision by an Immigration Judge. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 18–1015, pp. 32a–35a. Both removal orders became administratively final, and both petitioners left the country.
Several months after their removal orders became final, each petitioner’s window for filing a timely motion to reopen his removal proceedings closed. That is because the Immigration and Nationality Act permits a person one motion to reopen, “a form of procedural relief that asks the Board to change its decision in light of newly discovered evidence or a change in circumstances.” Dada
554 U.S. 1
, 12, 14 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). But the motion must usually be filed “within 90 days of the date of entry of a final administrative order of removal.”
8 U. S. C. §1229a(c)(7)(C)(i).
Nonetheless, Guerrero-Lasprilla (in 2016) and Ovalles (in 2017) asked the Board to reopen their removal proceedings. Recognizing that the 90-day time limit had long since passed, both petitioners argued that the time limit should be equitably tolled. Both petitioners, who had become eligible for discretionary relief due to various judicial and Board decisions years after their removal, rested their claim for equitable tolling on Lugo-Resendez
, 831 F.3d 337 (CA5 2016). In that case, the Fifth Circuit had held that the 90-day time limit could be “equitably tolled.” Id
., at 344. Guerrero-Lasprilla filed his motion to reopen a month after Lugo-Resendez
was decided. App. 5. Ovalles filed his motion to reopen eight months after the decision. Id
., at 35. The Board denied both petitioners’ requests for equitable tolling, concluding, inter alia
, that they had failed to demonstrate the requisite due diligence. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 18–1015, at 6a; App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 18–776, p. 12a.
Guerrero-Lasprilla and Ovalles each asked the Fifth Circuit to review the Board’s decision. See
8 U. S. C. §1252(a)(1); 28 U. S. C. §2342; Reyes Mata
576 U.S. 143, 147 (2015) (“[C]ircuit courts have jurisdiction when an alien appeals from the Board’s denial of a motion to reopen a removal proceeding”). The Fifth Circuit denied their requests for review, concluding in both cases that “whether an alien acted diligently in attempting to reopen removal proceedings for purposes of equitable tolling is a factual question.” Guerrero-Lasprilla
, 737 Fed. Appx. 230, 231 (2018) (per curiam
, 741 Fed. Appx. 259, 261 (2018) (per curiam
). And, given the Limited Review Provision, it “lack[ed] jurisdiction” to review those “factual” claims. 737 Fed. Appx., at 231; 741 Fed. Appx., at 261.
Both petitioners claim that the underlying facts were not in dispute, and they asked us to grant certiorari in order to determine whether their claims that the Board incorrectly applied the equitable tolling due diligence standard to the “undisputed” (or established) facts is a “question of law,” which the Limited Review Provision authorizes courts of appeals to consider. We agreed to do so.
The Limited Review Provision provides that, in this kind of immigration case (involving aliens who are removable for having committed certain crimes), a court of appeals may consider only “constitutional claims or questions of law.”
8 U. S. C. §1252(a)(2)(D). The issue before us is, as we have said, whether the statutory phrase “questions of law” includes the application of a legal standard to undisputed or established facts. If so, the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that it “lack[ed] jurisdiction” to consider the petitioners’ claims of due diligence for equitable tolling purposes. We conclude that the phrase “questions of law” does include this type of review, and the Court of Appeals was wrong to hold the contrary.
Consider the statute’s language. Nothing in that language precludes the conclusion that Congress used the term “questions of law” to refer to the application of a legal standard to settled facts. Indeed, we have at times referred to the question whether a given set of facts meets a particular legal standard as presenting a legal inquiry. Do the facts alleged in a complaint, taken as true, state a claim for relief under the applicable legal standard? See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6); Neitzke
490 U.S. 319
, 326 (1989) (“Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law”). Did a Government official’s alleged conduct violate clearly established law? See Mitchell
472 U.S. 511
, 528, n. 9 (1985) (“[T]he appealable issue is a purely legal one: whether the facts alleged . . . support a claim of violation of clearly established law”); cf. Nelson
v. Montgomery Ward & Co.
312 U.S. 373
, 376 (1941) (“The effect of admitted facts is a question of law”). Even the dissent concedes that we have sometimes referred to mixed questions as raising a legal inquiry. See post,
at 3–4 (opinion of Thomas, J.). While that judicial usage alone does not tell us what Congress meant by the statutory term “questions of law,” it does indicate that the term can reasonably encompass questions about whether settled facts satisfy a legal standard.
We have sometimes referred to such a question, which has both factual and legal elements, as a “mixed question of law and fact.” See, e.g., U. S. Bank N. A.
v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC
, 583 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 7) (“[W]hether the historical facts found satisfy the legal test chosen” is a “so-called ‘mixed question’ of law and fact” (citing Pullman-Standard
456 U.S. 273
, 289, n. 19 (1982))). And we have often used the phrase “mixed questions” in determining the proper standard for appellate review of a district, bankruptcy, or agency decision that applies a legal standard to underlying facts. The answer to the “proper standard” question may turn on practical considerations, such as whether the question primarily “require[s] courts to expound on the law, particularly by amplifying or elaborating on a broad legal standard” (often calling for review de novo
), or rather “immerse[s] courts in case-specific factual issues” (often calling for deferential review). Village at Lakeridge
, 583 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 8). But these cases present no such question involving the standard of review. And, in any event, nothing in those cases forecloses the conclusion that the application of law to settled facts can be encompassed within the statutory phrase “questions of law.” Nor is there anything in the language of the statute that suggests that “questions of law” excludes the application of law to settled facts.
The Government, respondent here, argues to the contrary. Namely, the Government claims that Congress intended to exclude from judicial review all mixed questions. We do not agree. Rather, a longstanding presumption, the statutory context, and the statute’s history all support the conclusion that the application of law to undisputed or established facts is a “questio[n] of law” within the meaning of §1252(a)(2)(D).
Consider first “a familiar principle of statutory construction: the presumption favoring judicial review of administrative action.” Kucana
558 U.S. 233
, 251 (2010). Under that “well-settled” and “strong presumption,” McNary
v. Haitian Refugee Center, Inc.
498 U.S. 479
, 496, 498 (1991), when a statutory provision “is reasonably susceptible to divergent interpretation, we adopt the reading that accords with traditional understandings and basic principles: that executive determinations generally are subject to judicial review.” Kucana
, 558 U. S., at 251 (quoting Gutierrez de Martinez
515 U.S. 417
, 434 (1995); internal quotation marks omitted); see McNary
, 498 U. S., at 496 (“[G]iven [that] presumption . . . , it is most unlikely that Congress intended to foreclose all forms of meaningful judicial review”). The presumption can only be overcome by “clear and convincing evidence” of congressional intent to preclude judicial review. Reno
v. Catholic Social Services, Inc.
509 U.S. 43
, 64 (1993) (quoting Abbott Laboratories
387 U.S. 136
, 141 (1967); internal quotation marks omitted); see Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC
, 579 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2016) (slip op., at 9–10).
We have “consistently applied” the presumption of reviewability to immigration statutes. Kucana
, 558 U. S., at 251. And we see no reason to make an exception here. The dissent’s “doubts” about the presumption, see post
, at 6–9, do not undermine our recognition that it is a “well-settled” principle of statutory construction, McNary
, 498 U. S., at 496. Notably, even the Government does not dispute the soundness of the presumption or its applicability here. See Brief for Respondent 47–48 (arguing only that the presumption is overcome).
As discussed above, we can reasonably interpret the statutory term “questions of law” to encompass the application of law to undisputed facts. See supra,
at 4–5. And as we explain further below, infra
, at 13, interpreting the Limited Review Provision to exclude mixed questions would effectively foreclose judicial review of the Board’s determinations so long as it announced the correct legal standard. The resulting barrier to meaningful judicial review is thus a strong indication, given the presumption, that “questions of law” does indeed include the application of law to established facts. That is particularly so given that the statutory context and history point to the same result.
Consider next the Limited Review Provision’s immediate statutory context. That context belies the Government and the dissent’s claim that “questions of law” refers only to “pure” questions and necessarily excludes the application of law to settled facts. See Brief for Respondent 19–26; post
, at 3–6. The Limited Review Provision forms part of §1252, namely, §1252(a)(2)(D). The same statutory section contains a provision, §1252(b)(9), which we have called a “ ‘zipper clause.’ ” INS
v. St. Cyr
533 U.S. 289
, 313 (2001). We have explained that Congress intended the zipper clause to “consolidate judicial review of immigration proceedings into one action in the court of appeals.” Ibid
. (internal quotation marks omitted). The zipper clause reads in part as follows:
“Judicial review of all questions of law and fact
, including interpretation and application of
constitutional and statutory provisions
, arising from any action taken . . . to remove an alien from the United States under this subchapter shall be available only in judicial review of a final order under this section.” §1252(b)(9) (emphasis added).
Because it is meant to consolidate judicial review, the zipper clause must encompass mixed questions. Indeed, the clause by its very language includes the “application of [a] statutory provisio[n].” Ibid.
The zipper clause accordingly makes clear that Congress understood the statutory term “questions of law and fact” to include the application of law to facts. Reread the zipper clause: It uses the terms “[(1)] questions of law and [(2)] fact, including
” the “application of ” statutes, i.e.,
the application of law to fact. Ibid.
(emphasis added). Thus, there are three possibilities: Congress either used (1) “questions of law,” (2) “fact,” or (3) the combination of both terms to encompass mixed questions. Even the Government does not argue that Congress used “questions of fact” alone
to cover mixed questions. Congress thus either meant the term “questions of law” alone to include mixed questions, or it used both “questions of law” and questions of “fact” to encompass mixed questions. The latter interpretation at the very least disproves the Government’s argument that Congress consistently uses a three-part typology, referring to mixed questions separately from questions of law or questions of fact (such that “questions of law” cannot include mixed questions). See Brief for Respondent 21; see also post,
at 3 (arguing that this Court has often used that three-part typology and thus “questions of law” must exclude mixed questions). And the former interpretation directly supports the conclusion that “questions of law” includes mixed questions. That interpretation gives “questions of law” the same meaning across both provisions. Notably, when Congress enacted the Limited Review Provision, it added language to the end of the zipper clause (following the language quoted above) to clarify that, except as provided elsewhere in §1252, “ ‘no court shall have jurisdiction’ ” to “ ‘review . . . such questions of law or fact.’ ” §106,
311. There is thus every reason to think that Congress used the phrase “questions of law” to have the same meaning in both provisions.
Consider also the Limited Review Provision’s statutory history and the relevant precedent. The parties agree that Congress enacted the Limited Review Provision in response to this Court’s decision in St. Cyr
. See Brief for Respondent 16, 27–31; Brief for Petitioners 31–33. In that case, the Court evaluated the effect of various allegedly jurisdiction-stripping provisions, including the predecessor to §1252(a)(2)(C). That predecessor (which today is modified by the Limited Review Provision) essentially barred judicial review of removal orders based on an alien’s commission of certain crimes. See St. Cyr
, 533 U. S., at 298, 311 (citing §1252(a)(2)(C) (1994 ed., Supp. V)). This Court interpreted that predecessor and the other purportedly jurisdiction-stripping provisions as not barring (i.e.,
as permitting) review in habeas corpus proceedings, to avoid the serious constitutional questions that would be raised by a contrary interpretation. See St. Cyr
, 533 U. S., at 299–305, 314.
In doing so, the Court suggested that the Constitution, at a minimum, protected the writ of habeas corpus “ ‘as it existed in 1789.’ ” Id.,
at 300–301. The Court then noted the kinds of review that were traditionally available in a habeas proceeding, which included “detentions based on errors of law, including the erroneous application
or interpretation of statutes.” Id.,
at 302 (emphasis added). And it supported this view by citing cases from the 18th and early 19th centuries. See id.,
at 302–303, and nn. 18–23. English cases consistently demonstrate that the “erroneous application . . . of statutes” includes the misapplication of a legal standard to the facts of a particular case. See, e.g., Hollingshead’s Case
, 1 Salk. 351, 91 Eng. Rep. 307 (K. B. 1702); King
, 2 Str. 880, 93 Eng. Rep. 914 (K. B. 1724); King
, 1 Cowp. 331, 334–337, 98 Eng. Rep. 1114, 1116–1117 (K. B. 1775); King
, 1 Leach 325, 326, 168 Eng. Rep. 265, 266 (1784). The Court ultimately made clear that “Congress could, without raising any constitutional questions, provide an adequate substitute [for habeas review] through the courts of appeals.” St
, 533 U. S., at 314, n. 38.
Congress took up this suggestion. It made clear that the limits on judicial review in various provisions of §1252 included habeas review, and it consolidated virtually all review of removal orders in one proceeding in the courts of appeals. See §106(a),
310–311 (inserting specific references to
28 U. S. C. §2241 and “ ‘any other habeas corpus provision’ ”). At the same time, Congress added the Limited Review Provision, which permits judicial review of “ ‘constitutional claims or questions of law,’ ” the words directly before us now.
This statutory history strongly suggests that Congress added the words before us because it sought an “adequate substitute” for habeas in view of St. Cyr
’s guidance. See supra,
If so, then the words “questions of law” in the Limited Review Provision must include the misapplication of a legal standard to undisputed facts, for otherwise review would not include an element that St. Cyr
said was traditionally reviewable in habeas.
We reach the same conclusion through reference to lower court precedent. After we decided St. Cyr
, numerous Courts of Appeals held that habeas review included review of the application of law to undisputed facts. See Cadet
, 377 F.3d 1173
, 1184 (CA11 2004) (“[W]e hold that the scope of habeas review available in [28 U. S. C.] §2241 petitions by aliens challenging removal orders . . . includes . . . errors of law, including both statutory interpretations and application of law to undisputed facts or adjudicated facts”); Ogbudimkpa
, 342 F.3d 207
(CA3 2003) (same); Mu-Xing Wang
, 320 F.3d 130
, 143 (CA2 2003) (same); Singh
, 351 F.3d 435
, 441–442 (CA9 2003) (“[O]ther courts have rejected the Government’s argument that only ‘purely legal questions of statutory interpretation’ permit the exercise of habeas jurisdiction. . . . We agree with those rulings”). We normally assume that Congress is “aware of relevant judicial precedent” when it enacts a new statute. Merck & Co.
, 559 U.S. 633
, 648 (2010). Thus, we should assume that Congress, aware of this precedent (and wishing to substitute review in the courts of appeals for habeas review), would have intended the phrase “questions of law” to include the application of a legal standard to established or undisputed facts.
Those who deem legislative history a useful interpretive tool will find that the congressional history of the Limited Review Provision supports this analysis. The House Conference Report refers to St. Cyr
and adds that Congress’ amendments are designed to “provide an ‘adequate and effective’ alternative to habeas corpus” in the courts of appeals. H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 109–72, p. 175 (2005) (citing St. Cyr
, 533 U. S., at 314, n. 38). The Report adds that the amendments “would not change the scope of review that criminal aliens currently receive.”
H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 109–72, at 175. And as we know, that “scope of review” included review of decisions applying a legal standard to undisputed or established facts. That is what this Court, in St. Cyr
, had said was traditionally available in habeas; and it was how courts of appeals then determined the scope of habeas
review. Notably, the legislative history indicates that Congress was well aware of the state of the law in the courts of appeals in light of St. Cyr
. See H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 109–72, at 174 (discussing issues on which the Courts of Appeals agreed and those on which they had split after St. Cyr
). The statutory history and precedent, as well as the legislative history, thus support the conclusion that the statutory term “questions of law” includes the application of a legal standard to established facts.
The Government makes two significant arguments that we have not yet discussed. First, it points out that §1252(a)(2)(C) forbids (subject to the Limited Review Provision) review of a removal order based on an alien’s commission of certain crimes. If the words “questions of law” include “mixed questions,” then for such aliens, the Limited Review Provision excludes only (or primarily) agency fact-finding from review. But if Congress intended no more than that, then why, the Government asks, did it not just say so directly rather than eliminate judicial review and then restore it for “constitutional claims or questions of law?” Brief for Respondent 49–50.
One answer to this question is that the Limited Review Provision applies to more of the statute than the immediately preceding subparagraph. See §1252(a)(2)(D) (applying notwithstanding “subparagraph (B) or (C), or in any other provision of this chapter (other than this section)”). Another answer is that Congress did not write the Limited Review Provision on a blank slate. Rather, subparagraph (C) initially forbade judicial review, and Congress then simply wrote another subparagraph reflecting our description in St. Cyr
of the review traditionally available in habeas (or a substitute for habeas in the courts of appeals). See supra,
at 8–10. That statutory history also illustrates why the dissent errs in relying so significantly on language in subparagraph (C) proscribing judicial review. See post,
at 5–6, 9 (referring to the “sweeping” and “broad” language of subparagraph (C)). A broad and sweeping reading of subparagraph (C) was precisely what this Court rejected in St. Cyr
, and Congress enacted subparagraph (D) in response to that opinion. Subparagraph (C)—constrained as it is by subparagraph (D)—must thus be read in that context.
Second, the Government argues that our interpretation will undercut Congress’ efforts to severely limit and streamline judicial review of an order removing aliens convicted of certain crimes. See Brief for Respondent 29–30; see also post,
at 11, n. 5 (noting that the legislative history indicates that Congress intended to streamline removal proceedings by limiting judicial review). The Limited Review Provision, however, will still forbid appeals of factual determinations—an important category in the removal context. And that Provision, taken together with other contemporaneous amendments to §1252, does streamline judicial review relative to the post-St. Cyr
regime, by significantly curtailing habeas proceedings in district courts.
More than that, the Government’s interpretation is itself difficult to reconcile with the Provision’s basic purpose of providing an adequate substitute for habeas review. That interpretation would forbid review of any Board decision applying a properly stated legal standard, irrespective of how mistaken that application might be. By reciting the standard correctly, the Board would be free to apply it in a manner directly contrary to well-established law. The Government, recognizing the extreme results of its interpretation, suggested at oral argument that the courts of appeals might still be able to review certain “categori[es]” of applications, such as whether someone being in a coma always, sometimes, or never requires equitable tolling. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 38. The Government, however, left the nature and rationale of this approach unclear. The approach does not overcome the problem we have just raised, and seems difficult to reconcile with the language and purposes of the statute.
* * *
For these reasons, we reverse the Fifth Circuit’s “jurisdictional” decisions, vacate its judgments, and remand these cases for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.