The Supreme Court was in session Nov. 1 for a rare Thursday hearing, after rescheduling the arguments that were originally to be heard this past Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy. It was odd to be in the courthouse on a Thursday, and it was mostly empty. Which is a shame, because the arguments in Chaidez v. United States are important and were very well made by both advocates in the case (Jeffrey Fisher for Ms. Chaidez, and Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben for the United States).
But the Justices, of course, were in the house, and we saw Hurricane Ginsburg make landfall (albeit in her usual elegant, well-mannered, and pointed yet respectful way). However, before getting into this morning’s argument in more detail, it is worth briefly recounting the facts of the case. Petitioner Roselva Chaidez, a citizen of Mexico, came to the United States in 1971 and became a lawful permanent resident in 1977. In 2003, Ms. Chaidez, on advice of counsel, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with an insurance fraud scheme; she received $1,200 from the scheme, and in its entirety the fraud operation netted about $26,000. Ms. Chaidez was sentenced to four years of probation under the terms of her guilty plea. Unfortunately for Ms. Chaidez -- and unbeknownst to her at the time she pleaded guilty -- under federal immigration law, a fraud conviction involving a total loss in excess of $10,000 constitutes an “aggravated felony” for which a non-citizen can be deported. In 2009, after Ms. Chaidez unsuccessfully filed a petition for naturalization (and subsequently disclosed her criminal conviction in the interview, reflecting her lack of awareness of its immigration consequences), the U.S. government initiated removal proceedings based on her conviction.