Eleven years ago, Rudina Demiraj fled Albania because she feared reprisal after she and her family opposed the nation’s ruling party. Shortly thereafter, her husband took a job in a construction business owned by an Albanian mobster. When federal prosecutors took action against the mobster, her husband offered to testify against him and the feds agreed to keep Demiraj’s family safe.
The feds, however, did not keep them safe. When the mobster fled the country, Demiraj’s husband was deported — where he was kidnapped, beaten, and shot by the mobster he was once slated to testify against (he survived, and was eventually allowed back in the United States). The mobster also kidnapped Demiraj’s two nieces and forced them into prostitution.
Flash forward several years, and Rudina Demiraj herself is in court facing deportation. Federal law grants asylum to non-citizens whose “life or freedom would be threatened” because they belong to a particular family, and no one in this case questions that the mobster would seek revenge against Demiraj’s husband by going after her if she is returned to Albania. Nevertheless, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit voted 2–1 along party lines to deny asylum to Demiraj by twisting the asylum law in a way that deprives it of any real meaning:
The crucial finding here is that the record discloses no evidence that Mrs. Demiraj would be targeted for her membership in the Demiraj family as such. Rather, the evidence strongly suggests that Mrs. Demiraj, her son, and Mr. Demiraj’s nieces were targeted because they are people who are important to Mr. Demiraj — that is, because hurting them would hurt Mr. Demiraj. No one suggests that distant members of the Demiraj family have been systematically targeted as would be the case if, for example, a persecutor sought to terminate a line of dynastic succession. Nor does the record suggest that the fact of Mr. and Mrs. Demiraj’s marriage and formal inclusion in the Demiraj family matters to Bedini; that is, Mrs. Demiraj would not be any safer in Albania if she divorced Mr. Demiraj and renounced membership in the family, nor would she be any safer if she were Mr. Demiraj’s girlfriend of many years rather than his wife.
This reasoning is absurd on its face, and, fortunately, it also places the Fifth Circuit directly at odds with a decision by another court of appeals — so there is actually a meaningful chance that this decision will be reversed by the Supreme Court. Sadly, however, this kind of heartless reasoning is all too common in the nation’s cruelest court of appeals.
The Fifth Circuit infamously ordered a cheerleader to pay sanctions after she sued the school district that required her to cheer for her alleged rapist. And several of the Fifth Circuit’s judges once wrote that a death row defendant whose lawyer slept through much of his trial was not denied his constitutional right to counsel.
Yet, there is one group that the Fifth Circuit shows tremendous empathy for: wealthy corporations. Two Fifth Circuit judges, Jerry Smith and Eugene Davis, ruled in favor of the oil industry in a major drilling moratorium case despite the fact that they both attended expense-paid “junkets for judges” sponsored by an oil-industry funded organization. A third Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Clement, serves on the board of this organization, despite an opinion from the federal judiciary’s ethics committee saying that Clement violates her ethical obligations by remaining on this board. Indeed, the Fifth Circuit is so widely viewed as a safe haven for the oil industry that the House GOP attempted to shift several key oil drilling cases to this court because they knew its judges would treat the industry kindly.
So the Fifth Circuit is a great place to seek justice — just so long as you are rich, well-connected and loaded with oil interests.