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Routine Exceptionality: The Plenary Power Doctrine, Immigrants, and the Indigenous Under U.S. Law


Susan Bibler Coutin


University of California, Irvine School of Law

Justin Richland


University of Chicago

Veronique Fortin


University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society

September 12, 2012

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-79

Abstract:     
Our paper examines how law-making regarding Native and Central Americans in the United States gives rise to documentary forms that challenge binaries that have plagued sociolegal scholarship. In the United States, plenary power gives the federal government what former U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey termed the "administrative grace" to grant privileges to members of groups, such as immigrants and Native Americans, who are citizens of other nations, and thus whose allegiance is questioned. Matter of Compean 24 I&N Dec. 710 (A.G. 2009). Plenary power is understood by the Supreme Court as having "always been deemed a political one, not subject" to judicial oversight. Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (1903). This understanding makes plenary power something of a legal black box – analysis typically ends with the determination that the authority in question is a political one beyond legal review. Yet members of these groups experience plenary power precisely in its regulatory form, in the ways in which they are demanded to produce documents to establish juridical and political identities before the state. Such documents, which simultaneously produce and contest accounts of immigrant and indigenous histories, create alternative understandings in which law is characterized neither by gaps nor by gaplessness, but rather by embodiment in material form.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: plenary power, Native Americans, Immigration

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Date posted: November 27, 2012 ; Last revised: December 1, 2012

Suggested Citation

Coutin, Susan Bibler and Richland, Justin and Fortin, Veronique, Routine Exceptionality: The Plenary Power Doctrine, Immigrants, and the Indigenous Under U.S. Law (September 12, 2012). UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-79. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2181071 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2181071

Contact Information

Susan Bibler Coutin
University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )
535A Administration
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
Justin B. Richland (Contact Author)
University of Chicago ( email )
1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
HOME PAGE: http://anthropology.uchicago.edu/people/faculty_member/justin_b._richland
Veronique Fortin
University of California, Irvine - Department of Criminology, Law and Society ( email )
2340 Social Ecology 2, RM
Irvine, CA 92697
United States
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