A federal law that makes it a crime for a person to encourage illegal immigration does not violate constitutional free speech protections, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday in upholding the decades-old measure defended by President Joe Biden’s administration.

The 7-2 ruling overturned a lower court’s decision to strike down the provision, part of a larger immigration statute, in a case involving a California man named Helaman Hansen who deceived immigrants through a phony “adult adoption” program.

The lower court had ruled that the law was overly broad because it may criminalize speech protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The measure bars inducing or encouraging noncitizens “to come to, enter or reside” in the United States illegally, including for financial gain.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who wrote the ruling, said the law does not prohibit a substantial amount of protected speech.

Endorsing the administration’s view of the law, Barrett wrote: “Properly interpreted, this provision forbids only the intentional solicitation or facilitation of certain unlawful acts.”

Liberal Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision.

The case was one of two immigration-related rulings issued by the court on Friday. The justices also upheld the Biden administration’s move to narrow the scope of those who can be targeted by immigration agents for arrest and deportation, a shift that had been challenged by the republican attorneys general in Texas and Louisiana. The court said those states did not have legal standing to challenge the new guidelines.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had tossed out Hansen’s 2017 conviction for violating the measure. Hansen also was convicted of mail and wire fraud and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Hansen was out of prison pending his appeal.


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