Supreme Court issues opinions on cases involving property fraud and immigration

On May 7, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in two cases argued during its October 2019 term. The court has issued 31 decisions this term.

Kelly v. United States concerned a scheme to reduce local traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge as retaliation after Fort Lee’s mayor refused to endorse New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s (R) 2013 re-election bid. The scheme is known as Bridgegate. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and was argued on January 14, 2020.

  • The issue: Whether the defendants committed property fraud.
  • The outcome: In a unanimous ruling, the court reversed the 3rd Circuit’s decision, overturning Kelly’s and Baroni’s wire fraud and fraud from federally funded programs convictions. The court held Kelly and Baroni could not have violated the federal program fraud or wire fraud laws because their actions were regulatory in nature and did not seek to obtain money or property. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion.

United States v. Sineneng-Smith concerned 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 the law.” The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and was argued on February 25, 2020.

  • The issue: “Whether the federal criminal prohibition against encouraging or inducing illegal immigration for commercial advantage or private financial gain, in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and (B)(i), is facially unconstitutional.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated the judgment of the 9th Circuit and remanded the case in a 9-0 ruling. The court held that the 9th Circuit’s departure from the principle of party presentation, as set forth by Greenlaw v. United States (2008), by reaching to decide a question that was not raised by the respondent in the case constituted an abuse of discretion.

The party presentation principle is a legal principle where parties frame the issues for decision and courts generally serve as neutral arbiters of matters the parties present.

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