Zadvydas v. Davis Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In cases in which no country is willing to accept a noncitizen who is under order of deportation, the controversial Zadvydas decision restricted the length of time of detentions, except when the government can demonstrate aggravating circumstances that require additional detention.

A resident alien in the United States, Kestutis Zadvydas had been born to Lithuanian immigrantsLithuanian parents in a German camp for displaced persons. However, after he acquired a long criminal record, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ordered his deportation. Both Germany and Lithuania refused to admit him because he was not a citizen of either country, and no other country could be found to accept him. According to applicable U.S. law, following a final deportation order, an alien was to be held in custody for a period of up to ninety days. If the alien was still in the country after the removal period had expired, INS personnel would conduct an administrative review to decide between further detention or supervised release.[c]Zadvydas v. DavisDeportation;Zadvydas v. DavisNoncitizens;detention of[c]Zadvydas v. DavisDeportation;Zadvydas v. DavisNoncitizens;detentionof[cat]COURT CASES;Zadvydas v. Davis[cat]DEPORTATION;Zadvydas v. Davis

After Zadvydas’s custody had lasted longer than ninety days, he petitioned a U.S. district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The court ruled in Zadvydas’s favor, based on the theory that the government would never deport him, thereby resulting in permanent confinement without a criminal trial, which violated constitutional requirements of due process. The court of appeals, however, reversed the decision, based on the theory that an eventual deportation was not impossible, thereby providing a rationale for continuing the administrative detention.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the “the statute, read in light of the U.S. Constitution’s demands, limits an alien’s post-removal-period detention to a period reasonably necessary to bring about that alien’s removal from the United States.” Writing the opinion for the Court, Justice Breyer, Stephen G.Stephen G. Breyer explained that since indefinite detention of aliens without trials would raise serious constitutional objections, the federal courts were obligated to construe the statute as containing an “implicit reasonable time limitation.”

Although deportation proceedings were “civil and assumed to be nonpunitive,” the government’s two justifications did not appear adequate to an indefinite civil detention. First, the possibility of flight appeared weak, since no country wanted to accept Zadvydas; second, the use of preventive detention to protect the community was only allowed for individuals judged to be especially dangerous. Balancing Zadvydas’s “liberty interests” with the risk of his committing crimes, Breyer wrote that the INS could detain him for an additional six months, after which it would have to demonstrate strong proof to justify further detention.

Justices Scalia, AntoninAntonin Scalia and Kennedy, AnthonyAnthony Kennedy both expressed strong dissenting opinions. They argued that Justice Breyer had misread the relevant statute, and also that he had failed to give adequate consideration to several precedents, especially [c]Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. MezeiShaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei (1953), which appeared to put no time limit for detaining an alien under an order of detention. Describing the majority opinion as a claim for the “right of release into this country by an individual who concededly has no legal right to be here,” Scalia declared, “There is no such constitutional right.”[c]Zadvydas v. DavisDeportation;Zadvydas v. DavisNoncitizens;detention of

Further Reading
  • Kanstroom, Daniel. Deportation Nation: Outsiders in American History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Welch, Michael. Detained: Immigration Law and the Expanding I.N.S. Jail Complex. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Congress, U.S.

Constitution, U.S.


Supreme Court, U.S.

Categories: History