United States Accardi v. Shaughnessy

Decision Date15 March 1954
Docket NumberNo. 366,366
Citation74 S.Ct. 499,98 L.Ed. 681,347 U.S. 260
PartiesUNITED STATES ex rel. ACCARDI v. SHAUGHNESSY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr.

Jack Wasserman, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Marvin E. Frankel, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a habeas corpus action in which the petitioner attacks the validity of the denial of his application for suspension of deportation under the provisions of § 19(c) of the Immigration Act of 1917.1 Admittedly deport- able, the petitioner alleged, among other things, that the denial of his application by the Board of Immigration Appeals was prejudged through the issuance by the Attorney General in 1952, prior to the Board's decision, of a confidential list of 'unsavory characters' including petitioner's name, which made it impossible for him 'to secure fair consideration of this case.' The District Judge refused the offer of proof, denying the writ on the allegations of the petitioner without written opinion. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed. 206 F.2d 897. We granted certiorari. 346 U.S. 884, 74 S.Ct. 138.

The Justice Department's immigration file on petitioner reveals the following relevant facts. He was born in Italy of Italian parents in 1909 and entered the United States by train from Canada in 1932 without immigration inspection and without an immigration visa. This entry clearly falls under § 14 of the Immigration Act of 19242 and is the uncontested ground for deportation. The deportation proceedings against him began in 1947. In 1948 he applied for suspension of deportation pursuant to § 19(c) of the Immigration Act of 1917. This section as amended in 1948 provides, in pertinent part, that:

'In the case of any alien (other than one to whom subsection (d) of this section is applicable) who is deportable under any law of the United States and who has proved good moral character for the preceding five years, the Attorney General may * * * suspend deportation of such alien if he is not ineli- gible for naturalization or if ineligible, such ineligibility is solely by reason of his race, if he finds (a) that such deportation would result in serious economic detriment to a citizen or legally resident alien who is the spouse, parent, or minor child of such deportable alien; or (b) that such alien has resided continuously in the United States for seven years or more and is residing in the United States upon July 1, 1948.'

Hearings on the deportation charge and the application for suspension of deportation were held before officers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at various times from 1948 to 1952. A hearing officer ultimately found petitioner deportable and recommended a denial of discretionary relief. On July 7, 1952, the Acting Commissioner of Immigration adopted the officer's findings and recommendation. Almost nine months later, on April 3, 1953, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the decision of the hearing officer. A warrant of deportation was issued the same day and arrangements were made for actual deportation to take place on April 24, 1953.

The scene of action then shifted to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. One day before his scheduled deportation petitioner sued out a writ of habeas corpus. District Judge Noonan dismissed the writ on April 30 and his order, formally entered on May 5, was never appealed. Arrangements were then made for petitioner to depart on May 19.3 However, on May 15, his wife commenced this action by filing a petition for a second writ of habeas corpus.4 New grounds were alleged, on information and belief, for attacking the administrative refusal to suspend deportation.5 The principal ground is that on October 2, 1952—after the Acting Commissioner's decision in the case but before the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals—the Attorney General announced at a press conference that he planned to deport certain 'unsavory characters'; on or about that date the Attorney General prepared a confidential list of one hundred individuals, including petitioner, whose deportation he wished; the list was circulated by the Department of Justice among all employees in the Immigration Service and on the Board of Immigration Appeals; and that issuance of the list and related publicity amounted to public prejudgment by the Attorney General so that fair consideration of petitioner's case by the Board of Immigration Appeals was made impossible. Although an opposing affidavit submitted by government counsel denied 'that the decision was based on information outside of the record' and contended that the allegation of prejudgment was 'frivolous,' the same counsel repeated in a colloquy with the court a statement he had made at the first habeas corpus hearing 'that this man was on the Attorney General's proscribed list of alien deportees.'

District Judge Clancy did not order a hearing on the allegations and summarily refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit with the contention that the allegations required a hearing in the District Court and that the writ should have been issued if the allegations were proved. A majority of the Court of Appeals' panel thought the administrative record amply supported a refusal to suspend deportation; found nothing in the record to indicate that the administrative officials considered anything but that record in arriving at a decision in the case; and ruled that the assertion of mere 'suspicion and belief' that extraneous matters were considered does not require a hearing. Judge Frank dissented.

The same questions presented to the Court of Appeals were raised in the petition for certiorari and are thus properly before us. The crucial question is whether the alleged conduct of the Attorney General deprived petitioner of any of the rights guaranteed him by the statute or by the regulations issued pursuant thereto.

Regulations6 with the force and effect of law7 supplement the bare bones of § 19(c). The regulations prescribe the procedure to be followed in processing an alien's application for suspension of deportation. Until the 1952 revision of the regulations, the procedure called for decisions at three separate administrative levels below the AttorneyGeneral—hearing officer, Commissioner, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board is appointed by the Attorney General, serves at his pleasure, and operates under regulations providing that: 'in considering and determining * * * appeals, the Board of Immigration Appeals shall exercise such discretion and power conferred upon the Attorney General by law as is appropriate and necessary for the disposition of the case. The decision of the Board * * * shall be final except in those cases reviewed by the Attorney General. * * *' 8 CFR § 90.3(c) (1949). See 8 CFR § 6.1(d)(1) (Rev. 1952). And the Board was required to refer to the Attorney General for review all cases which:

'(a) The Attorney General directs the Board to refer to him.

'(b) The chairman or a majority of the Board believes should be referred to the Attorney General for review of its decision.

'(c) The Commissioner requests be referred to the Attorney General by the Board and it agrees.' 8 CFR § 90.12 (1949). See 8 CFR § 6.1(h)(1) (Rev. 1952).

The regulations just quoted pinpoint the decisive fact in this case: the Board was required, as it still is, to exercise its own judgment when considering appeals. The clear import of broad provisions for a final review by the Attorney General himself would be meaningless if the Board were not expected to render a decision in accord with its own collective belief. In unequivocal terms the regulations delegate to the Board discretionary authority as broad as the statute confers on the Attorney General; the scope of the Attorney General's discretion became the yardstick of the Board's. And if the word 'discre- tion' means anything in a statutory or administrative grant of power, it means that the recipient must exercise his authority according to his own understanding and conscience. This applies with equal force to the Board and the Attorney General. In short, as long as the regulations remain operative, the Attorney General denies himself the right to sidestep the Board or dictate its decision in any manner.

We think the petition for habeas corpus charges the Attorney General with precisely what the regulations forbid him to do: dictating the Board's decision. The petition alleges that the Attorney General included the name of petitioner in a confidential list of 'unsavory characters' whom he wanted deported; public announcements clearly reveal that the Attorney General did not regard the listing as a mere preliminary to investigation and deportation; to the contrary, those listed were persons whom the Attorney General 'planned to deport.' And, it is alleged, this intention was made quite clear to the Board when the list was circulated among its members. In fact, the Assistant District Attorney characterized it as the 'Attorney General's proscribed list of alien deportees.' To be sure, the petition does not allege that the 'Attorney General ordered the Board to deny discretionary relief to the listed aliens.' It would be naive to expect such a heavy handed way of doing things. However, proof was offered and refused that the Commissioner of Immigration told previous counsel of petitioner, 'We can't do a thing in your case because the Attorney General has his (petitioner's) name on that list of a hundred.' We believe the allegations are quite sufficient where the body charged with the exercise of discretion is a nonstatutory board composed of subordinates within a department headed by the individual who formulated, announced, and circulated such views of the pending proceeding.

It is important to emphasize that we are not here...

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