INS v. National Center for Immigrants' Rights, Inc., 502 U.S. 183, 11 (1991)

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Cite as: 502 U. S. 183 (1991)

Opinion of the Court

of literalness is rejected, all relevant considerations for giving a rational content to the words become operative. A restrictive meaning for what appear to be plain words may be indicated by the Act as a whole, by the persuasive gloss of legislative history or by the rule of constitutional adjudication, relied on by the District Court, that such a restrictive meaning must be given if a broader meaning would generate constitutional doubts." Id., at 199.

In this case, the Government's argument proceeds on the assumption that the "Act as a whole"—including its concern with the employment of excludable aliens—should define the scope of the Attorney General's discretion. It is respondents who would excise the interest in preventing unauthorized employment from the statutory scheme and confine the Attorney General's bonding authority to the limited purpose of ensuring the presence of aliens at their deportation hearings. Moreover, the contested regulation, when properly construed as applicable only to unauthorized employment, does not raise "constitutional doubts" and therefore does not militate in favor of a narrow construction of the organic statute. In short, the Court of Appeals' reliance on Witkovich was misplaced.

The majority below also relied on Carlson. In that case, the Court upheld the Attorney General's detention (under 23 of the Internal Security Act of 1950) of deportable members of the Communist Party on the ground that they posed a threat to national security. The Court of Appeals read that case narrowly, as standing for the proposition that the Attorney General may exercise his discretion under 1252(a) to protect the Nation from active subversion.

This reading of Carlson is too cramped. What was significant in Carlson was not simply the threat of "active subversion," but rather the fact that Congress had enacted legislation based on its judgment that such subversion posed a threat to the Nation. The Attorney General's discretion


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