INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 17 (2001)

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Cite as: 533 U. S. 289 (2001)

Opinion of the Court

evidence to support the proposition that pure questions of law like the one raised by the respondent in this case could have been answered in 1789 by a common-law judge with power to issue the writ of habeas corpus. It necessarily follows that a serious Suspension Clause issue would be presented if we were to accept the INS' submission that the 1996 statutes have withdrawn that power from federal judges and provided no adequate substitute for its exercise. See Hart, The Power of Congress to Limit the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: An Exercise in Dialectic, 66 Harv. L. Rev. 1362, 1395-1397 (1953). The necessity of resolving such a serious and difficult constitutional issue—and the desirability of avoiding that necessity—simply reinforce the reasons for requiring a clear and unambiguous statement of congressional intent.

Moreover, to conclude that the writ is no longer available in this context would represent a departure from historical practice in immigration law. The writ of habeas corpus has always been available to review the legality of Executive detention. See Felker, 518 U. S., at 663; Swain v. Pressley, 430 U. S., at 380, n. 13; id., at 385-386 (Burger, C. J., concurring); Brown v. Allen, 344 U. S., at 533 (Jackson, J., concurring in result). Federal courts have been authorized to issue writs of habeas corpus since the enactment of the Judiciary Act of 1789, and 2241 of the Judicial Code provides that federal judges may grant the writ of habeas corpus on the application of a prisoner held "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 25

28 U. S. C. 2241. Before and after the enactment in 1875 of the first statute regulating immigration, 18 Stat. 477, that jurisdiction was regularly invoked on behalf of noncitizens, particularly in the immigration context. See, e. g., In re

25 In fact, 2241 descends directly from 14 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 and the 1867 Act. See Act of Sept. 24, 1789, ch. 20, 14, 1 Stat. 82; Act of Feb. 5, 1867, ch. 28, 14 Stat. 385. Its text remained undisturbed by either AEDPA or IIRIRA.


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