Judge Martin and the Eleventh Circuit


The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has issued some noteworthy decisions in the last few weeks concerning the rights of foreign nationals in both criminal and civil proceedings.  One case, Gupta v. McGahey, No. 11-1420, concerned the right of an immigrant to sue immigration officers for civil rights violations; the Eleventh Circuit ultimately decided he had no such right.  Another case,  United States v. Garza-Mendez, No. 12-13643, involved an effort by an immigrant to reduce his sentence for a federal conviction of unlawful entry by obtaining a “clarification” order from a state court judge for a prior domestic violence conviction which had been used by federal prosecutors to enhance his sentence; the Eleventh Circuit turned aside this effort, as did the lower court, finding that the order was just a belated effort by the immigrant party to influence the outcome of his federal case.  In the last case, Donawa v. U.S. Att’y General, No. 12-13526, a foreign national of Antigua tried to avoid deportation by arguing that two prior Florida convictions for drug-related offenses which immigration authorities had used to initiate deportations proceedings against him were not deportable offenses; the Eleventh Circuit agreed in part and sent the case back to the immigration judge for a second look.

In each of these three cases, Judge Martin ended up on the side of the immigrant.  She was alone in that regard in two of the cases where she issued strong dissents and took her colleagues to task for what she believed was their “astonishing” and “cursory” legal reasoning.  As someone who spent most of her legal career prosecuting individuals, one might find Judge Martin’s positions surprising.  But one’s past experience is not always a reliable predictor of future action.  In fact, the two sometimes have no discernible correlation; Obama is a good example of that.

It will be interesting to see how Judge Martin develops as a jurist and to what extent she is able to influence other members of the Eleventh Circuit, or instead  alienates them.  If the court’s recent decisions are any indication, Judge Wilson has signaled that he too may be prepared to speak out when his colleagues reach an unjust result.

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