Last week, An unusual coalition of Supreme Court justices joined together to rule in favor of an immigrant fighting deportation.  By a 6-3 vote, the court sided with Agusto Niz-Chavez, a Guatemalan immigrant who has been in the United States since 2005. Eight years later, he received a notice to appear at a deportation hearing but this notice did not include a date or time. Two months after that, a second notice instructed him when and where to show up.  By sending notice of a deportation hearing, the government can stop the clock on immigrants hoping to show they have been in the United States for at least 10 straight years. The 10-year mark makes it easier under federal law to ask to be allowed to remain in the country.  The court was deciding whether immigration officials had to include all the relevant information in a single notice.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his majority opinion that they do, criticizing the government’s “notice by installment.”  Two other conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, signed on, as did the court’s three liberal members, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The case was argued in November during the Trump administration.  A 1996 immigration law specifies “a notice to appear” for people the government wants to deport, Gorsuch said.  He said the court’s role is to make sure the executive branch does not exceed the power Congress gave it.  “Interpreting the phrase ‘a notice to appear’ to require a single notice — rather than 2 or 20 documents — does just that,” he wrote.  In dissent, Justice Brett Kavanaugh — an appointee of President Donald Trump along with Gorsuch and Barrett — called Gorsuch’s conclusion “rather perplexing as a matter of statutory interpretation and common sense.”