The US Supreme Court on Tuesday curbed the ability of immigrants held in long-term detention during deportation proceedings to argue for their release in a ruling in sync with President Donald Trump's get-tough approach toward immigration.
The court's conservative justices carried the day in the 5-3 decision that overturned a lower court's ruling that required that immigrants held by the US government awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings get a bond hearing after six months of detention to seek their release.
The ruling could lead to indefinite detentions of certain classes of immigrants, including some with legal status who the government wants to deport.
The court's five conservatives were in the majority in the ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito. Three liberals dissented, including Justice Stephen Breyer, who sharply criticized the decision. Another liberal, Justice Elena Kagan, did not participate.
Class action litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the government's practice of placing immigrants facing deportation proceedings in detention for months or years without being able to argue for release.
Breyer said that forbidding bail would likely violate the US Constitution's guarantee of due process under the law. Breyer said he doubted the US Congress, in crafting the immigration provisions at issue, would have wanted to put thousands of people at risk of lengthy confinement without any hope of bail.
"We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have 'certain unalienable Rights,' and that among them is the right to 'Liberty,'" Breyer wrote.
But Alito said that these immigration law provisions cannot be interpreted to limit the length of detention. He called Breyer's view of the statutes "utterly implausible."
The case assumed added importance in light of the Trump administration's decision to ramp up immigration enforcement, with growing numbers of people likely to end up in detention awaiting deportation.
The court threw out a 2015 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that the government must provide bond hearings to gauge danger and flight risk when detention exceeds six months, and every six months after that. Former President Barack Obama's Justice Department had challenged that ruling. The Trump administration took up the appeal.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said the 9th Circuit's ruling had resulted in unnecessary bond hearings, adding to a backlog in the immigration court system.
"We are aggressively working to implement common sense reforms to reduce that backlog, and today's Supreme Court decision ensures that immigration judges in the Ninth Circuit can focus their valuable docket time on matters actually required by law," O'Malley said.
The justices sent the case back to the 9th Circuit to consider the question of whether the Constitution requires bond hearings for detained immigrants.