“A” Unusual alliance of Justices holds government to strict notice requirement

Liz Heidhues – Blog Post contributor – 5.4.2021

Deportation Smacked Down by Government’s Incompetent Use of “A”

For once the Supreme Court got it right about the Government’s incompetence using Standard American English.

The grammar rules of rich white men are the basis for Standard American English. These rules were established long ago in England to protect the upper classes from infringement upon their status and authority by the lower classes, who were slowly becoming educated and, predictably, gaining access to power.

The grammar rules have nothing to do with logic and are based on politics and power.

An English teacher knows full well the pitfalls of getting the hang of the articles “a, an, the” and the usage of “count” vs. “noncount” nouns which confounds most English language students.

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It seems that the Justices of the Supreme Court recently took on the challenges of an English teacher when they had to teach the Government how to interpret the grammar of its own laws.

An immigrant from Guatemala, Agusto Niz-Chavez, had been living in the United States 8 years when he received “a notice to appear” at a deportation hearing.

The notice informed Mr. Niz-Chavez of the charges against him but did not include any further information about the hearing. Two months later, Mr. Niz-Chavez was sent another “a notice to appear”, this one with the missing information about the time and place for his deportation proceeding.

Under a 1996 federal law (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act – IIRIRA), an undocumented immigrant cannot be deported if they can establish their continuous presence in the country for at least 10 years.

If the immigrant establishes a continuous presence in this country for at least 10 years, they can appeal to the Immigration Judge for eligibility for cancellation of their removal.

However, as soon as an immigrant is served with “a notice to appear” with specific information about a deportation proceeding, the clock is stopped on the immigrant’s continuous presence.

Agusto Niz-Chavez I 5.4.2021

This is known as the stop-time rule.

Mr. Niz-Chavez, who entered the country unlawfully, was ordered by the Immigration Judge to depart the United States within 30 days or else be removed to Guatemala. He contested his removal.

The Supreme Court heard the case and cast aside, in a 6-3 decision, the Immigration Judge’s order to remove Mr. Niz-Chavez from this country.

The Justices ruled that the “two” notices sent to Mr. Niz-Chavez could not be construed as “a notice to appear’, or one notice, as they were multiple notices and not a singular one.

The Justices agreed that, to stop the 10-year clock or to invoke the stop-time rule, the Government must provide all the required information in ONE DOCUMENT rather than TWO.

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A Portrait of the Supreme Court Justices

The Government attempted to invoke the Dictionary Act, arguing that the Dictionary Act tells us to assume “words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things”.

The Supreme Court Justices would have none of the Government’s doublethink.

The Justices told the Government that “The Dictionary Act does not transform every use of the singular ‘a’ into the plural ‘several’.

Agusto Niz-Chavez IV5.4.2021

The Justices then hit the bull’s-eye in explaining their reasoning in such plain English that any student would be able to get it.

“Suppose a statute made it a crime to vandalize ‘a’ bank. Under the Dictionary Act, someone who vandalizes five banks could not avoid prosecution on the ground that he vandalized more than one.”

The Government’s lack of proficiency in using the article “a” or in recognizing that the noun “notice” is inherently neither a “count” nor a “noncount” noun was a blessing in disguise for the immigrant whose native language is not English.

Its incompetence in following the rules of Standard American English means that now Agusto Niz-Chavez will be able to apply for citizenship. This worthy immigrant deserves a break for his ability to interpret the English language better than the US Government.

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Read more on Scotusblog.com


Top Cartoon – Common Count / Non Count Nouns – The New Yorker – Edward Steed 5.3.2017