Victory! Supreme Court Upholds Harboring Law

Press Releases

May 7, 2020

Court agrees with IRLI, finds Ninth Circuit abused its discretion

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the part of the federal anti-harboring statute that outlaws encouraging illegal aliens to remain in the country unlawfully. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had held that the provision banned too much speech that is protected under the First Amendment, and that the whole law was thus invalid as an overbroad restriction of speech. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) had filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

The Court did so. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Ginsberg, the Court held that the Ninth Circuit had overstepped its bounds and abused its discretion when it injected the overbreadth argument into the case, even though that argument had not been made by the defendant. In so ruling, the Court reaffirmed the bedrock importance of the adversary system in Anglo-American law, under which the parties, not the courts, shape the issues in a case. 

The defendant, a woman who had made millions by charging illegal aliens fees for filing what she knew were meritless legalization petitions, had made an “as-applied” challenge to the statute, arguing that it violated her own rights to free speech, as opposed to those of the general public. She did not succeed in this challenge, however, because fraudulent speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

“We applaud the Court’s well-reasoned decision,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “Unfortunately, the Court did not have to reach the issue of whether this important statute is constitutional, but it did keep the law in place. When and if the overbreadth issue is brought up properly by a defendant in the future, we will be there.”

The case is United States v. Sineneng-Smith, No. 19-67 (Supreme Court).

For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • [email protected]

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