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UHLC Immigration Law Clinic Effort Leads to Major Immigration Law Decision in Supreme Court of the United States

Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic of the University of Houston Law Center, served as co-counsel on a major immigration law case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 14, 2010, on appeal from a decision of the Fifth Circuit. The Court held in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder that a second drug possession offense under state law is not an “aggravated felony” under federal law that would have the effect of denying eligibility for discretionary cancellation of removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act when the state conviction is not based on the fact of a prior conviction. Petitioner had been convicted in Texas of possession of a small amount of marijuana and subsequently convicted of possession of one antianxiety tablet. Although Texas law allows sentencing enhancement if the State proved that petitioner had previously been convicted of a similar offense, the State did not seek sentencing enhancement. The Federal Government initiated removal proceedings and denied the claim by petitioner that he was eligible for discretionary cancellation of removal. The Federal Government argued that petitioner’s conduct could have been punished as an aggravated felony under federal law, since it could have been punished as a recidivist offense under state law. The court rejected this “hypothetical approach.” Justice Stevens authored the opinion, joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Sotomayor, with Scalia and Thomas filing concurring opinions.
In addition to Geoffrey Hoffman, several Immigration Clinic staff and students of the Law Center worked on the case. According to releases by the clinic, former clinic attorneys Ann Chandler and Tom Perkinson worked on the case as it progressed through the lower courts and current UHLC students Charlotte Simon, Magda Gonzalez, and Andrea Boulares assisted with preparation of the appeal. Co-counsel on the appeal to the Supreme Court was Sri Srinivasan of O’Melveny & Myers. Congratulations to Geoffrey Hoffman and the clinic staff and students who made possible this major immigration law decision.
Critical documents are:

1. Case opinion
2. Oral argument transcripts
3. Briefs (posted on ABA Preview of U.S. Supreme Court Cases on 3/31/2010)
4. UHLC announcement on SCOTUS granting cert. to the case, and the UHLC team in front of the High Court
5. 5th Cir. Opinion (reversed by SCOTUS)

by Spencer Simons

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