Detroit Federal Court Opens Alien Registration Hearing
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Detroit Federal Court Opens Alien Registration Hearing

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Argument on the alien registration law enacted recently by the Michigan legislature and signed by the governor was opened this morning before the Federal District Court of Appeals. Judges Arthur C. Dennison, Ernest A. O’Brien and Charles C. Simons, are on the bench in the injunction proceedings against the enforcement of the act.

Argument for the plaintiffs was opened by Theodore Levin, prominent Detroit attorney and head of the counsel representing the opposition to the measure, who moved for the elimination of Governor Brucker’s name from the bill of complaint. This would leave only the names of Attorney-General Voorhies and Commissioner of Public Safety Olander and would protect the case against the ruling that a sovereign state cannot be sued by an individual. This motion, together with the motion of Kit F. Clardy, assistant attorney-general in charge of the defense, was taken under advisement by the court.


Mr. Levin’s argument on the case is regarded as impressive and convincing by opponents of the law who have been inspired with new confidence because of it. The state of Michigan, Mr. Levin declared, would be turned into an armed camp if the law is enforced.

The brief asking for an interlocutory injunction is an exhaustive document of over 100 pages of which six pages are devoted to an index referring to 140 cited authorities. It is filed in the names of the following plaintiffs:

George Arrowsmith of Wayne, Mich; Polonia Publishing Co., a Michigan corporation; Francesco Dimeglio, Detroit, and John Petrowski, also of Detroit. Governor Brucker, Attorney General Paul W. Voorhies and State Commissioner of Public Safety Oscar G. Olander are named as defendants. Listed as attorneys for the plaintiffs on the brief are: Theodore Levin of Levin, Levin and Dill of Detroit; Patrick H. O’Brien and Fred M. Butzel of Detroit, and Max J. Kohler of New York.

After an argument in defense of the early injunction proceedings on grounds of “anticipated injury,” the brief proceeds to an analysis of the act with the declaration that: “the Statute is so uncertain and rests so largely on erroneous assumptions of basic law that an attempt to resolve its inconsistent, misleading and conflicting provisions into principles is immediately met with difficulties of analysis.” Pointing out the phrase in the act “measures limiting or restricting immigration,” the brief says that “it is impossible to determine what acts limiting or restricting immigration are contemplated by the statute as the basis for classification.”


“The Act,” the brief proceeds, “operates to defeat Federal policy with respect to a matter within Federal control exclusively. Under this Act, it is thus obvious that registration cannot be secured, as a matter of course, by anyone, and would necessarily be denied under the language of the Act to many thousands of persons who are either here legally or who can no longer be deported, under the Federal laws, because of lapse of time.”

Analyzing Section 12 of the act which forbids the employment of non-naturalized aliens who do not produce registration certificates, the brief states:

“Employers who err, however honestly in any of these respects, or who credit for instance a false statement of applicant that he is a native born naturalized citizen, will become guilty of crime and guilty knowledge is no element. In view of these very rigid and sweeping penalties employers will almost to a man follow the line of least resistance, and not risk employing anyone, whether naturalized or not, whom they may regard as a possible alien,and the result will be that practically no supposed alien who is within the state will be able to find employment.”

The brief calls attention to the frequency with which the Supreme Court has been called upon to scrutinize state legislation dealing with attempts of states to regulate or control the coming of aliens into this country, and quoes decisions against such state powers.

Interesting opinion is quoted from the decision of the Michigan State Supreme Court in the case of People v. Baum, 251 Mich. 187. This case involved a sentence imposed by the Circuit Court requiring, in addition to a fine that the defendant should leave the state within 30 days and not return for a period of five years. In declaring such sentence invalid the Michigan Court stated: “the American states are not supreme, independent, sovereign states in relation to those things delegated by the people to the Federal Government, though the states are all in the Union on the basis of equality of political rights.”


Under the heading “Regulation or Control of Aliens as Such Is Not Within the Police Power of the State,” the brief refers to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which establishes that: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” and also that no state should “deprive any person of life, liberty or property withoue due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisidiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Other sections of the brief deal with the existing difficulty of establishing dates of entry prior to and in some cases after 1906; the exclusiveness of Federal jurisdiction over aliens as such; the unlawful and arbitrary and unreasonable classifications involved; the constitutionality of the separate registration provisions; the invalidity of the act because it is an ex post facto law in operation; and in unconstitutionality because it violates the provisions against cruel and unusual punishments and requires a person to be witness against himself.

The brief concludes by declaring:


“The sweeping terms of the Act, its far reaching nature, the absence of honest relationship to or connection with any urgent question involving public peace, health or safety make the act utterly oppressive and in violation of the quoted provisions of the Michigan constituion.”

Following a brief recess after Levin’s argument, Clardy delivered an address in defense of the act. He defended the state’s right to legislate to prevent the employment of aliens here illegally. Clardy said that the act was the most misconstrued of all measures ever passed by the Michigan legislature and declared that the plaintiffs were not entitled to raise the question because they are not in the class outlined by the act.


He said too that North Carolina has an even more stringent registration act which has not yet reached the courts and he therefore assumed the act to be valid. Clardy asked whether the state is to be prevented from registering the entire class of aliens in order that it may sift the illegally entered and the criminals.

Judge Simons interjected with a question as to how the state can divorce the registration feature from the deportation feature and further asked whether the latter is not an exclusive power of the Federal government. Judge Simons also asked whether the purpose of the registration provision is to enforce the deportation clause. This discussion is important because it suggests the possibility of holding part or parts of the act valid and enforceable and other sections invalid.

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