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INS v. St. Cyr - 533 U.S. 289, 121 S. Ct. 2271 (2001)


The inquiry into whether a statute operates retroactively demands a commonsense, functional judgment about whether the new provision attaches new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment. A statute has retroactive effect when it takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation, imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in respect to transactions or considerations already past. The judgment whether a particular statute acts retroactively should be informed and guided by familiar considerations of fair notice, reasonable reliance, and settled expectations.


Before the effective dates of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 ("IIRIRA"), § 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was interpreted to give the Attorney General broad discretion to waive deportation of resident aliens. Section 401 of AEDPA identified a broad set of offenses for which convictions would preclude such relief and by IIRIRA, which repealed § 212(c) and replaced it with a new section excluded from the class anyone "convicted of an aggravated felony." A large class of aliens depended on § 212(c) relief. Respondent St. Cyr, a lawful permanent United States resident, pleaded guilty to a criminal charge that made him deportable. He would have been eligible for a waiver of deportation under the immigration law in effect when he was convicted, but his removal proceedings were commenced after AEDPA's and IIRIRA's effective dates. St. Cyr filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court. The Attorney General claimed that AEDPA and IIRIRA withdrew his authority to grant St. Cyr a waiver. The district court accepted St. Cyr's habeas corpus application and agreed that the new restrictions did not apply to removal proceedings brought against an alien who pleaded guilty to a deportable crime before enactment of the new laws. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit affirmed.


Were AEDPA and IIRIRA applicable to St. Cyr's case?




The Supreme Court of the United States concluded that the district courts retained habeas jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241 because interpreting the cited amendments to entirely preclude review raised substantial constitutional questions under the Suspension Clause. Moreover, the cited amendments did not contain a clear and unambiguous statement of constitutional intent to bar jurisdiction pursuant to § 2241, nor did they provide another judicial forum to decide pure questions of law. Relief pursuant to 8 U.S.C.S. § 1182(c) remained available for St. Cyr, who was convicted pursuant to a plea agreement and who was eligible for § 1182(c) relief at the time of his plea, because nothing in the IIRIRA unmistakably indicated that the repeal of § 1182(c) applied retroactively.

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