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By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices gave a mostly skeptical hearing Monday to a California woman who wants the State Department to explain why it barred her Afghan husband from joining her in this country.

The government argued it has an undisputed “power to exclude aliens” from entering the United States, and “there is no right to judicial review” of a decision to deny a visa to such a person, said Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler.

During questions and comments, the court’s conservative justices appeared to agree with the government’s strict position.

They said they were wary of establishing new rights that might encourage spouses, parents or children to go to court whenever one of their close relatives is barred from entering the United States.

The case of Kerry vs. Din asks whether a U.S. citizen has a right to object after his or her spouse is turned down for a visa.

Fauzia Din, an Aghan native and a naturalized U.S. citizen, married an Afghan man in 2006 and sought to have him join her in this country.

But the State Department rejected his application for a visa in 2009, citing a provision of the law that bars foreigners connected to “terrorist activities.”

She denied her husband had any connection to terrorists, winning a partial victory from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. Its judges said that as a married woman, she had a right to demand an explanation for the government’s decision to deny a visa to her husband.

Her position won some support during Monday’s argument. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer said they were troubled by the possibility the government had made a mistake.

“That’s what we were told after 9/11,” Sotomayor said. The government said then it had good reasons for arresting and holding foreigners, only to admit later they made a mistake in some instances, she said.

Kneedler insisted the State Department double-checked before denying a visa, and that officials need not explain their reasons for excluding someone.

“No matter what?” Breyer asked. What if the consular official denied the visa for racist reasons or because he thought husbands and wives should not live together? Kneedler denied such a possibility.

But when Los Angeles attorney Mark Haddad rose to argue Din’s case, Chief Justice John Roberts and several of his colleagues said they did not want to extend new rights to relatives to contest immigration decisions.

If wives have a constitutional right to go to court in such cases, they may also have a right to object when their imprisoned husbands are sent to a facility that is far away, said Justice Samuel Alito.

Justice Anthony Kennedy also said that since such decisions involve national security and intelligence gathering, he was reluctant to air them court.

Photo: OZinOH via Flickr

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