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Why do lawyers refer to long documents as briefs and
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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Legal Brainteaser: What's a Country?

Sure, you're a little bit country. But what if your country isn't really a "country"?

This question -- or something like it -- recently gripped the Ninth Circuit when reviewing a deportation order against Nikolay Dzyuba. The Bureau of Immigration Appeals had ordered Dzyuba deported to the Ukraine, which they considered to the be the "country" from which he had entered the US back in 1991. The problem is that when Dzyuba entered the US, on July 5, 1991, the Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. It did not gain its independence until August 24, 1991 -- seven weeks after Dzyuba's entry.

This argument sent the judges scrambling for their copy of Webster's Third New International Dictionary but that Dictionary says that "country" can be either an independent political entity or a geographic region. As is sadly typical in modern "descriptivist" dictionaries, Webster's indicates no preference for either meaning. The question ultimately proved too daunting for the Circuit -- they kicked the case back to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals to decide whether pre-independence Ukraine was a "country."

Any bets on what they'll decide?

23 comments:

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I dan't think of an explanation of the judge's dilemma other than ignorance of history. The Ukraine was a republic on the relevant date (a member of a union of republics). It was a member of the United Nations -- separately from the membership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- and had been for more than 40 years.

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