Contract law should protect undocumented students from unfair detainment

Caragh McErlean/Senior Staff

Although former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will always be remembered with a degree of ambivalence in terms of his agenda on liberal issues, he was always a vociferous and impassioned defender of contract law. Both liberals and conservatives alike on the Supreme Court would attest to Scalia’s unwavering protection of contracts and, more importantly, contracts linked to property. Despite his personal opposition to narcotics, Scalia ruled in favor of a marijuana grower whose 4th Amendment rights had been violated in Kyllo v. United States. Similarly, despite his personal opposition to clemency for narcotraffickers, Scalia ruled in favor of Jardines in the Florida v. Jardines situation in Miami-Dade County.

Nevertheless, the situation with the formerly detained UC Berkeley student Luis Mora is not a 4th Amendment issue even on its face and it is not an issue of property. Contract law does apply, however, and Scalia’s decision in Cuomo v. Clearing House Association, LLC provides a valid recourse for future UC Berkeley students who may find themselves in Mora’s predicament, namely Dartmouth v. Woodward.

Despite being a case from 1819 pertinent to New Hampshire and the private Dartmouth College, the landmark contract law decision stands as a beacon of contract protection amid the incursions of the state or even the federal government on contractual obligations. Dartmouth’s contract in terms of its university charter actually originated with England. Although the U.S. had dramatically broken away from England by this time, Justice Marshall noted that Dartmouth’s contract with the British monarchy in terms of its university charter could not be arbitrarily dissolved by the state of New Hampshire.

Referencing a concurrence to Marshall’s majority opinion, in Cuomo v. Clearing House Association, LLC, Justice Scalia declaims: “In the famous Dartmouth College case, Justice Story, describing visitation of a charitable corporation, wrote that Dartmouth was ‘subject to the controlling authority of its legal visitor, who … may amend and repeal its statutes, remove its officers, correct abuses, and generally superintend the management of (its) trusts,’ and who are ‘liable to no supervision or control.’ ”

Naturally, like Dartmouth, UC Berkeley qualifies as a charitable organization. This classification is slightly more complicated if one wants to specify the exact type of charitable organization (cf. GAAP), which is unnecessary in describing the contract violation resultant from detaining Luis Mora or future UC Berkeley victims of arbitrary sequestration. More specifically, the federal government does not qualify as “legal visitor” capable of “amending and repealing” UC Berkeley’s “statutes” and the like. The moment a UC Berkeley student signs an admission contract with Cal, they are protected under contract law by the UC regents. In Dartmouth v. Woodward, the opposite situation was occurring wherein the state of New Hampshire was attempting to force Dartmouth to break its contract with the King of England. If the federal government detains a Cal student, the federal government is thus forcing the student to break their contract with the UC regents.

Human rights law is naturally a factor in the detention of the Cal student. Nevertheless, the contract law route is much more expedient. Like Justice Scalia, Justice Marshall was very eloquent and he wrote in Dartmouth’s defense regarding contracts: “Once granted, the constitution holds them to be sacred, till forfeited for just cause.” Consequently, the federal government automatically violates a “sacred” covenant between a detained student and the UC regents by preventing them from returning to UC Berkeley to graduate.

As a U.S. state with rights delineated by the 10th Amendment, California can most certainly make contracts and the UC regents qualify as the “trustees” that Justice Marshall references in his Dartmouth opinion. Therefore, by detaining the Cal student, the federal government is not only committing tortious interference, it is violating the 10th Amendment, which permits any state in the union to make contracts with an intrastate entity such as the regents. Human rights have, sadly enough, been violated frequently in the U.S., but contract law has always been protected. To prevent future UC Berkeley students from experiencing Mora’s travails, the UC regents should immediately highlight the Dartmouth v. Woodward precedent as a deterrent against future federal sequestration attempts.

Hideyasu Kurose is a prelaw student at UC Berkeley.