- Justices reviewing ruling that U.S. law violates free-speech rights
- States say striking down ban would have ripple effect on their laws
Feb 7 (Reuters) – A coalition of Republican-led states told the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday that striking down a federal law making it a crime to encourage illegal immigration would have a domino effect on criminal laws adopted by every state in the country.
Led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office, the 25 states in an amicus brief said an appeals court was wrong to rule that the decades-old law violated the free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The Supreme Court is considering whether to reverse that ruling in a case involving Helaman Hansen, a California man who was charged with violating the law by running a sham “adult adoption” program for immigrants.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year said the law, which makes it a crime to encourage or induce illegal immigration, was too broad and could apply to a swath of constitutionally protected speech.
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But the states in their amicus brief said the terms “encourage” and “induce” have a particular meaning in criminal law, and that every U.S. state uses them to define an array of criminal conduct.
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision threatens to upend these criminal laws, undermining the states’ power to create and enforce a criminal code,” they said.
Knudsen was joined by the attorney generals of Texas, Florida, Georgia and Ohio, among other states.
The U.S. Department of Justice and a lawyer for Hansen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Arguments in the case are scheduled for March 27, with a decision expected by June.
The Supreme Court reviewed a separate 9th Circuit ruling striking down the federal law in 2020, but ultimately held that the 9th Circuit had no power to consider the free-speech issue because the defendant in that case had not raised it.
During oral arguments in that case, United States v. Sineneng-Smith, conservative and liberal justices expressed concern that the law may be too broad and pressed government lawyers about what kind of speech could be criminalized.
The case is United States v. Hansen, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 22-179.
For the government: Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar
For Hansen: Carolyn Wiggin of the Office of the Federal Defender for the Eastern District of California
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