Should a legal immigrant be deported over a sock? No, said seven justices of the Supreme Court, who agreed that the government shouldn’t have deported a Tunisian math professor who was found with four Adderall pills in his sock.
In 2010, Moones Mellouli was convicted for possessing drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor charge in Kansas, where he was arrested. The paraphernalia in question was the sock, which was found after Mellouli was briefly jailed for driving under the influence with a suspended license. Two years later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested him, saying that because he had been convicted of a drug charge, he had lost his right to stay in the country. But in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court held on Monday that the law in question “did not authorize Mellouli’s removal.” His Kansas charging document did not reveal which controlled substance he had allegedly possessed, and not all substances banned by Kansas are banned under federal law.
“Under federal law,” Ginsburg wrote, “Mellouli’s concealment of controlled substance tablets in his sock would not have qualified as a drug-paraphernalia offense.” Under the federal law, she pointed out, drug paraphernalia is an object “’primarily intended or designed for use’ in connection with various drug-related activities.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented in an opinion by Thomas. They believe Mellouli was properly deported. “An alien may be removed only if he is convicted of violating a law, and I see nothing absurd about removing individuals who are unwilling to respect the drug laws of the jurisdiction in which they find themselves,” Thomas wrote. He speculated that the justices had acted out of a “gut instinct that an educated professional engaged to an American citizen should not be removed for concealing unspecified orange tablets in his sock. Or perhaps the majority just disapproves of the fact that Kansas, exercising its police powers, has decided to criminalize conduct that Congress, exercising its limited powers, has decided not to criminalize.”