SCOTUS Opinion: Court Curtails Ninth Circuit’s Digression from Issues Presented By the Parties

Evelyn Sineneng-Smith was convicted of violating 8 U.S.C. sec. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) for “encouraging or inducing an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such . . . is or will be in violation of the law,” and of sec. 1324(a)(1)(B)(i) for doing so “for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain,” when she charged her immigration clients to file applications for a program that had long expired. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, Sineneng-Smith argued that she did not violate the statutes as written, and that the provisions violated the Petition Clause and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment as applied. The Ninth Circuit, on its own, decided to consider whether the statute was overbroad under the First Amendment, an argument that Sineneng-Smith never raised, and went on to hold that it was unconstitutionally overbroad.

In United States v. Sineneng-Smith, the Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg, reversed, admonishing the Ninth Circuit for its “drastic departure from the principle of party presentation” of cases. The Court held that there were no “extraordinary circumstances” that justified the Ninth Circuit panel’s takeover of the issues of the appeal. It was up to the parties to frame the issues for the court to decide. The case was sent back for reconsideration absent the overbreadth inquiry added by the Ninth Circuit. Justice Thomas filed a lone concurrence to argue that the Court’s overbreadth doctrine has no basis in the text or history of the First Amendment and should be reconsidered.

A link to the opinion is here: