(TheRedWire.com) – In a ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the federal crime of encouraging illegal immigration while also clarifying the scope of the law. The justices voted 7-2 in favor of the Justice Department, overturning a previous ruling by a lower court that had deemed the crime unconstitutional based on First Amendment grounds, citing concerns about its broad reach into protected speech.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the majority, explained that the law only allows prosecution for the intentional solicitation or facilitation of unlawful acts related to illegal immigration, excluding benign statements. This clarification alleviated concerns about potential infringements on free speech.
The majority opinion was supported by conservative justices and Justice Elena Kagan, who is considered liberal. However, liberal justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.
The case involved Helaman Hansen, who was convicted for falsely promising over 471 noncitizens a path to citizenship through adult adoption and receiving $1.8 million. Hansen successfully appealed his two counts of encouraging illegal immigration for personal financial gain, arguing that the law was unconstitutionally overbroad by reaching too far into protected speech.
Typically, defendants challenge the application of law to their specific circumstances. However, in free speech cases, defendants can challenge the law itself, even if their speech is unprotected, due to concerns about the potential chilling effect on others’ constitutionally protected speech.
Justice Brown Jackson, in her dissent, argued against the majority’s decision, stating that retrofitting federal statutes to be inconsistent with Congress’s intent was not within the court’s jurisdiction or authority. She also expressed concern that narrowing the law to save it would undermine the purpose of the overbreadth doctrine, which aims to prevent overly broad regulations from chilling constitutionally protected speech.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who sided with the majority, wrote a separate opinion reiterating his opposition to the doctrine and suggesting that it should be reconsidered in an appropriate case. He expressed his view that courts have deviated from their original role of interpreting the law and protecting the rights of the parties involved.
The Supreme Court sent Hansen’s specific criminal case to a lower court for further proceedings. It’s important to note that Hansen was also convicted on 15 fraud charges that were not subject to question.
This case marks the second time the Supreme Court has examined the constitutionality of the crime of encouraging illegal immigration. In a previous instance three years ago, the court addressed a similar challenge on different grounds, leaving the First Amendment question untouched.
Copyright 2023, TheRedWire.com