Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday reversed a Bush administration ruling that had weakened the ability of immigrants facing deportation to argue that their lawyers did a bad job.
The original order, issued just days before the inauguration of President Obama, held that immigrants did not have a constitutional right to effective lawyers in their deportation hearings. That 11th-hour decision abruptly closed off one of the most common avenues for appealing deportation decisions.
Because immigration cases are classified as civil litigation, people facing deportation do not have the same right to be represented by a lawyer that criminal defendants have. But before the Bush administration, a long line of legal opinions allowed immigrants whose lawyers had performed poorly to ask that their cases be opened on constitutional grounds. In 2003, the Board of Immigration Appeals, a part of the executive branch that reviews the rulings of immigration courts, reaffirmed that right.
The Bush administration, however, successfully argued in several federal appeals court cases that there was no constitutional right to have a case reopened because of ineffective legal representation.