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Words (Still) Matter

Posted by Michael Kohler | Apr 29, 2021 | 0 Comments

The Supreme Court of the United States today reminded us again that even the meaning of the simplest words in a statute has specific meaning, intent, and importance.  That simple, non-assuming word discussed at length in today's decision, is “a.”  That is correct, the Supreme Court of the United States today issued a 6-3 decision in Niz-Chavez v. Garland  turning on the interpretation of the word “a.”

To summarize, at issue in this case was the ability of non-citizens facing deportation to apply for the ability to remain in the country.  The relevant section of law instructs that a person may not be permitted to apply for that relief if they are given “a notice to appear” in removal proceedings within a certain period of time of their arrival to the U.S.   The government regularly would provide individuals with “a notice to appear” that did not state where they had to appear nor when that removal proceeding would take place.  The government would then follow up with a second, subsequent notice that did contain the date, time, and place of the proceedings.  The government argued that both notices, together, are sufficient under the law and therefore those people were not eligible to apply for relief.

Individuals sued the government asserting that a document can't be “a notice to appear” if it fails to notify you where or when you must appear.  The case made its way through the administrative courts and lower federal courts until the Supreme Court reviewed the issue and made its decision today.  In writing the opinion for the court, Justice Gorsuch simply found that two notices – sometimes sent weeks or months apart – was not the same as “a notice to appear.”  Justice Gorsuch found that one, singular notice containing the required information is what is required in the statute where it says, “a notice to appear.”  Sometimes, it's the smallest of words that make all the difference.

This decision will make many individuals, previously believed to be ineligible for relief, now eligible to apply to remain in the country.  If you think you are in this position or have other questions, please contact the Law Offices of Michael Kohler, PLLC.

About the Author

Michael Kohler

Biography Prior to opening the Law Offices of Michael Kohler, PLLC in 2008, Michael served for 12 years as an attorney for the U.S. government. From 1996-97, Michael served as a Law Clerk for the Immigration Court in New York City. From 1997-2003, Michael was an Assistant District Counsel for th...


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