Brett Kavanaugh obviously hasn’t heard of playing it cool during your first week at a new job—during oral arguments on Wednesday, the newest member of the Supreme Court established himself as the strictest person in the room, defending a 1996 federal law that requires the government to detain any immigrants who had committed crimes, no matter how minor or how long ago their infraction was.
According to the New York Times, Kavanaugh said that “harshness” was exactly the point of Congress’s construction of the 1996 law. The debate, essentially, was whether or not Congress wanted the spirit of the law to provide for the government not detaining people who had an unpaid parking ticket or something.
Here’s what Kavanaugh thinks, per the Times:
Justice Kavanaugh said a 1996 federal law required detention even years later, without an opportunity for a bail hearing.
“What was really going through Congress’s mind in 1996 was harshness on this topic,” he said.
But Justice Gorsuch suggested that mandatory detentions of immigrants long after they completed their sentences could be problematic. “Is there any limit on the government’s power?” he asked.
Yeah, that’s Neil Gorsuch, the Trump Administration’s first Supreme Court nominee, being the voice of “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t do this to people.”
Justice Stephen Breyer took Gorsuch’s side, pointing out how harsh the law actually was.
Per the Times:
Justice Stephen G. Breyer pressed the point, asking a lawyer for the federal government whether it could detain “a person 50 years later, who is on his death bed, after stealing some bus transfers” without a bail hearing “even though in this country a triple ax murderer is given a bail hearing.”
There’s a full transcript of the argument here as well—on page 57, there’s an exchange where Kavanaugh repeatedly cuts off the lawyer he’s arguing with, Cecillia Wang, who represents the respondents to this case (the citizens challenging the law, essentially).
MS. WANG: Well, Justice Kavanaugh, we’re not asking you to superimpose a time limit. We’re asking you to give meaning to all the words of the statute that Congress enacted, which say -
JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: But you’re -
MS. WANG: — but -
JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: I’m sorry to interrupt — but when you say when, you are saying that is in essence a time limit of immediate, same day, I think you said.
And my point is that’s very odd when you think about what Congress was doing in 1996, because they were well aware that would not happen, A, because of resources, B, because they’re not learning about it right away. And it would be odd to think, okay, that’s what this statute means, even though it would often not be effectuated in that way.
MS. WANG: Well, Your Honor, I think, again, Congress, first as Justice Breyer noted, Congress often will have kind of a soft target when they legislate in this way. Second, remember -
JUSTICE KAVANAUGH: Well, the — a soft target would be what Justice Breyer might say, reasonable time. And Congress could have put that in, but — and maybe we should, Justice Breyer’s idea, but Congress didn’t do that.
We’re off to a great start, clearly.