The Plenary Power Doctrine is a central, integral feature of the Supreme Court’s immigration jurisprudence (the entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions) since the late 19th century. The doctrine gives the legislative and executive branches broad authority to regulate immigration. In addition, the doctrine holds that the courts should generally not interfere in immigration cases.
The Plenary Power Doctrine gives Congress and the President the power to make policy free from judicial review. It rests on the assumption that anything related to immigration is a question of national sovereignty that is related to a nation’s right to define its own borders.
During the Chinese Exclusion Case of 1889, the Plenary Power Doctrine was first articulated. In this instance, the Supreme Court upheld a statute which barred Chinese laborers from entering the United States. It did not subject law in question to any substantive constitutional analysis.
This doctrine shields a variety of immigration provisions from constitutional scrutiny. As a result, in Matthews v. Diaz (1976), “in the exercise of its broad powers over naturalization and immigration, Congress regularly makes rules that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens.”
Fortunately, the doctrine has not gone unchallenged. It has been challenged over the years by a variety of people including academics, other judges, and advocates of immigrants’ rights. Despite their efforts, the Supreme Court has not formally rejected the doctrine.
During arguments in front of the Supreme Court and other district courts, the representatives of the government frequently rely on the doctrine when defending or arguing in favor of a law that is being subjected to an attack on constitutional grounds.
In addition to being seen as having plenary powers in the areas of immigration, Congress is generally viewed as having plenary power in the area of commerce and its regulation. While no one has officially recognized limits on Congress’ plenary power concerning immigration, there have been successful challenges to the idea when it concerns commerce. As a result, Congress’ powers over commerce are no longer complete and covering all matters.
Due to the complicated nature of immigration laws, it is rarely a good idea for people to attempt to defend their case on their own. Immigrants facing criminal charges are in greatest need of representation.