The Supreme Court yesterday delivered a unanimous victory to a client of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in an immigration case.
Juan Esquivel-Quintana is a lawful permanent resident who came to this country from Mexico with his family when he was a young boy. Several years later, he pleaded guilty in California to statutory rape—a result of having consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was 20 years old. The federal government then initiated deportation proceedings against him, alleging his crime constituted the “aggravated felony” of “sexual abuse of a minor” under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Immigration judges agreed, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, siding with several other courts that had previously held that low-level statutory rape offenses rendered people automatically deportable.
Working with Stanford’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic challenged that position. The successful petition for certiorari was drafted last spring by Alison Gocke (’17), Shannon Grammel (’17), Jimmy Xi (’17), Andrew Chang (’17), and Matthew Sellers (’17). The merits briefing was handled by Grammel, Zoe Friedland (’17), Amari Hammonds (’17), and Adrienne Son (’18). The team traveled to Washington, D.C. in February for the oral argument and rejoiced yesterday when the decision was handed down. Drawing heavily on the students’ arguments, Justice Thomas wrote for the Court: “We agree with petitioner that, in the context of statutory rape offenses that criminalize sexual intercourse based solely on the age of the participants, the generic federal definition of sexual abuse of a minor requires that the victim be younger than 16.”
This is the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic’s third victory so far this term—adding to its previous successes in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, enabling criminal defendants to introduce evidence of racial bias when necessary to prove violations of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, and Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which strengthened the protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The clinic is waiting for the decision in one last case, Packingham v. North Carolina, which concerns free speech rights over the internet.
A leading authority on Supreme Court practice and nationally recognized expert on criminal procedure, Jeffrey L. Fisher is a Professor of Law at Stanford and Co-Director of its Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.