In the Wednesday decision that gave a transgender immigrant another chance to appeal a deportation order, the U.S. Supreme Court did something unprecedented: It used her proper pronouns and name.
Estrella Santos-Zacaria had said she would be persecuted if she were forced to return to her home country, Guatemala. She had been raped there and in Mexico. After the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered her deportation, she sought relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It dismissed her appeal, as the law requires noncitizens to exhaust all their options with administrative bodies, such as immigration authorities, before going to court. But the Supreme Court ruled that this is flexible, so Santos-Zacaria will have another chance to make her case to the Fifth Circuit.
In the ruling, the first majority opinion written by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, uses she/her pronouns throughout and also uses Santos-Zacaria’s female name, although it uses her deadname in the first reference to her, that being the legal name under which she filed the action. The ruling was unanimous; six other justices joined Jackson’s opinion, and conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring one, in which fellow conservative Clarence Thomas joined. Alito’s opinion used the correct pronouns as well.
“Legal scholars and observers of the court noted that not only did the opinion correctly gender Ms Santos-Zacaria, but also that it used more humanising language for non-citizens than past opinions have,”The Independentreports.
“The Court reads the statutory word ‘alien’ to mean a non-citizen (in a footnote),” former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance tweeted. “Non-citizen, not illegal alien or similar dehumanising term. 7 justices signed on to Jackson’s decision in full & the concurrences don’t mention it. This is huge progress on both fronts.”
Scholar and trans rights activist Alejandra Caraballo tweeted about the ruling as well.
So did lawyer Andrea Reyes who praised that the court, "even started the decision using [Santos-Zacaria’s] preferred pronouns".
There were those who objected, though.
The ruling came amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures — more than 450, many of them aimed specifically at trans people — and just before the expiration of pandemic-related restrictions on immigration. With the expiration, the Biden administration issued a new immigration policy that some progressives say is as restrictive as Donald Trump’s, possibly more so. The administration has defended the policy.