The high court said it will decide a pair of appeals, one by the federal government and one by three aliens challenging their deportation orders, on how much, if any, judicial review should be allowed in such cases.
The justices will hear arguments in April, with a ruling due by the end of June.
At issue are two laws, approved by Congress and signed by President Clinton: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. They dramatically altered the government's treatment of aliens who commit crimes or face deportation for other reasons.
Previously, some aliens facing deportation for committing a crime could seek a waiver from the attorney general. The new laws barred such waivers for aliens convicted of aggravated felonies.
The cases granted review Friday included a government appeal seeking to deport a man from Haiti who pleaded guilty to a drug crime in Connecticut, and a separate appeal by three natives of the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Guyana who were ordered deported for drug crimes in New York state.
Immigration officials ordered all four aliens deported and said the new law barred them from seeking a waiver.
The Haitian man, Enrico St. Cyr, won rulings by a federal trial judge and the 2nd U.S. Ciruit Court of Appeals allowing him to seek a waiver because his crime occurred before the new law took effect. The other three aliens took similar arguments directly to the appeals court.
In each case, the 2nd Circuit court said that because the new law barred appeals court review of such issues, the alien could file a habeas corpus petition in federal trial court.
Denying all court review would "raise a serious constitutional question," the appeals court said in the St. Cyr case.
The government's appeal said the 2nd Circuit court ruling in that case "frustrates Congress' intent" to limit court review of criminal aliens' deportation proceedings.
Lawyers for the three other aliens said they agreed with the appeals court ruling so long as they could pursue their cases in federal trial court.
The cases are Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr, 00-767, and Calcano-Martinez v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 00-1011.
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