Supreme Stop Sign

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on January 18, 2011

The Virginia Supreme Court has struck a blow for common sense. And its recent ruling is the first rational measure to check some of the worst ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court's overreaching Padilla v. Kentucky decision.

The Padilla opinion, a judicial breach of Congress's plenary power over immigration that Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent called a "sledge hammer," has led to criminal aliens seeking to reopen their cases, lawyers' shenanigans, and judges' manipulation, if not abuse, of their power. I warned about such deplorable consequences in an earlier post.

Virginia's high court has put the quash on attempts in that state to escape removal and on federally sanctioned legal games. Lower court judges were allowing the cases of immigrants who had pleaded guilty to felonies to be reopened. Why? Their lawyers hadn't told alien criminals that felonies would subject them to deportation.

The U.S. Supreme Court deemed it "incompetent counsel" and a Sixth Amendment violation not to be apprised that pleading guilty to a felony crime could have immigration consequences. In the Virginia case, an immigrant who had embezzled $15,000 took a plea bargain:

[Immigrant Emmanuel] Morris was a refugee from the civil war in Liberia and obtained permanent legal resident status. He acknowledged that while employed at a Sears store, he was part of a buy-and-return scam. [Judge Donald M.] Haddock suspended all but one month of his one-year sentence and ordered him to pay $15,000 restitution, which he did.

We may pity some of the immigrant criminals involved in these kinds of cases. Congress might even grant extraordinary ones an exception to the law, through a private bill. But we must keep this squarely in mind: These aliens willfully made bad choices. They decided to break the law, engage in crimes, risk jail and other consequences that would adversely affect their lives. America shouldn't be forced to continue extending to such bad apples the privilege of immigration.

In miscarriages of justice, not only were state judges reopening such cases, they have retroactively knocked down criminal sentences. Now, at least this kind of funny business will stop in Virginia. One state down, 49 to go.