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SRSLY: Making Stuff Up, a Winning Legal Strategy

Your three-minute read on the best reporting you probably missed.


The best reporting you probably missed

David Epstein

Welcome to SRSLY, an (experimental) newsletter highlighting under-exposed accountability journalism. We’ll distill the important information from investigative reporting you probably missed, and deliver it to you in three-minutes-or-less worth of reading. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. (You can, of course, unsubscribe at the first whiff of a bad joke.)

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You’ve watched plenty of television this election season, so you know what it’s like for arbiters of public sentiment to give impassioned and authoritative decrees that happen to rely on completely wrong information. Somehow, though, it’s slightly less amusing when the Supreme Court does it. As the Wall Street Journal notes, in a 2003 case, the Justice Department convinced the Supreme Court to uphold “a blanket policy of denying bail to thousands of immigrants imprisoned while appealing deportation orders.” And all it took was a little totally wrong data. Your mere three W’s:


According to the Journal, the 2003 case — Demore v. Kim — was a challenge to the federal government’s practice of holding non-citizen immigrants (including those with green cards) without bail once they became eligible for deportation. The Supreme Court ruled that the feds could keep on doing that, because it only took four months on average to resolve deportation appeals. This “very limited time of detention,” in the Court’s words, is so short that it doesn’t violate a constitutional right to a bail hearing. I mean, I get it, four months, it’s like not even enough time for an Austrian to go on vacation. (On the other hand, as HBO’s “The Night Of” showed, it took about six hours of imprisonment for Naz to go from college tutor to hardened criminal crack addict, so maybe languishing in prison, not so great … )

What’s wrong with the ruling?

You know how when your family plays Trivial Pursuit at Thanksgiving, and you correctly answer that the capital of North Dakota is Bismarck, but your Uncle Theo is holding the card and swears you’re wrong and the answer is Fargo? Well, the Journal reports that the DOJ’s “four months” claim sounded so preposterous to immigrant advocates that they were pretty sure the answer on the back of the card was something completely different. Said advocates — particularly the American Civil Liberties Union — filed Freedom of Information Act requests, and it turns out the average detention is more than a year. Whoops. That’s enough time for Naz to have detonated a nuclear weapon in prison.

What now?

Unclear. For now, the ruling stands as is. But the Demore v. Kim decision is relevant to a follow-up case scheduled for the Supreme Court’s next term. In that case, the government wants to overturn a ruling that entitles non-citizen immigrants to a bail hearing after six months of imprisonment.

They Said It

“The conclusion the court drew is understandable, but it is incorrect.” The court “may wish to amend its opinion to delete” the ruling. —Justice Dept. Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn in a letter to the clerk of the Supreme Court.

SRSLY Shortstack

Just prior to the start of the Rio Olympics, ProPublica published a long interview with the former chief investigator of the World Anti-Doping Agency, in which he detailed efforts by the head of his own agency to undermine a probe into state-sponsored doping in Russia. One of the investigator’s main qualms was that Craig Reedie, the head of WADA, is also a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, the president of which is reportedly BFFs with Vladimir Putin. Thus: Reedie is the head of a body exposing Russian doping and VP of a body that wasn’t so keen to have Russian doping exposed. Can’t imagine how that could go wrong. But apparently the leaders of 17 national anti-doping bodies can, which is why they met in Copenhagen to say that the World Anti-Doping Agency basically needs a complete overhaul. Meanwhile, a WADA computer system that keeps track of athletes’ physical locations was hacked, and only the information about the woman who blew the whistle on Russian doping was accessed. She already fled Russia, and now is hiding from her hiding place. Good situation all around. Yay Olympic spirit.

Tweet of the Week

In other sports news, you may have heard that the San Francisco 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem, igniting a firestorm of, well, everything, with many a talking head purporting to speak on behalf of “the troops.” Here, a troop speaks for himself.

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.

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