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The Cabaccangs eventually expanded their operation to include large-scale shipments of methamphetamine to Guam for local distribution. That the flight carrying the contraband departed from a domestic location is irrelevant, the government maintains, because § 952(a) is unconcerned with the origin of a shipment of drugs that enters the United States from international airspace.
Although we conclude that a commonsense reading of the plain language of the statute forecloses its application here, we are also persuaded that our reading is consistent with the statute's structure. Under the government's interpretation of the statute, however, any conduct proscribed by the first clause of § 952(a) also would have been covered by the statute's broader second clause when § 952 was enacted in 1970, rendering the first clause of the statute superfluous. At the time of § 952's enactment, when the territorial sea of the United States extended only three miles out from the coast, all of the U. territories that were outside the customs territory, e.g., the U. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa, were not contiguous with the customs territory. In Argentine Republic, the respondents argued that under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act-which defined the “United States” as all “territory and waters, continental and insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States”-the term “waters ․ subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” included the high seas, which are within the admiralty jurisdiction of the United States. Thomas to Puerto Rico, we still would be hard pressed to find a plausible legislative purpose for clause 1.
Indeed, Congress' use of the more specific, limited language of clause 1 presents yet another hurdle for the government's interpretation of § 952(a): clause 1 prohibits only the transport of drugs from the noncustoms territory to the customs territory-it does not address the drug trade in the reverse direction. Finally, we reject the government's interpretation of § 952(a) because it would sweep within the ambit of the statute a wide range of conduct that cannot reasonably be characterized as importation. The transport of drugs on these indisputably domestic flights can only be characterized as domestic conduct-for which rather steep penalties are already available-rather than importation. Four cases have considered whether this definition invoked the federal twelve-mile interdiction jurisdiction rather than the narrower three-mile one and concluded that it did: “[T]he twelve-mile contiguous zone over which the United States exercises customs authority ․ is included in the meaning of ‘the United States' in 21 U. This holding will have tremendous practical significance given the President's recent extension of the contiguous zone from twelve to twenty-four miles. 7219, Contiguous Zone of the United States, 64 Fed. At the very least, Congress reasonably could have believed that courts would interpret the statute that way-as in fact they have-and that's enough to render the first clause nonsuperfluous. It's one thing to give a statutory provision a strained construction to avoid what would otherwise be a genuine redundancy.
Thus in 1970 when Congress crafted § 952(a), it made a deliberate choice not to make the first clause reciprocal-banning the importation of drugs from, for example, Guam to California but not from California to Guam. Whenever possible, “we interpret statutes so as to preclude absurd results.” Andreiu v. Here in the Ninth Circuit we may encounter even more absurd results under the government's interpretation of § 952(a). 206, 220; 4 Whiteman Digest § 20, at 489 (Dep't of State 1965). § 952(a), defined as “all places and waters, continental or insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” Id. The majority's second effort to glue Ramirez-Ferrer's pieces back together consists of the theory that, even if Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were contiguous, Congress didn't know or didn't care. It's another thing altogether to do so after manufacturing a redundancy by assuming Congress either didn't know or didn't care about the real world circumstances that give the language in question independent force.
That the government still has not managed to appreciate the relevant geographic nuances only serves to underscore the improbability that Congress was aware of them, let alone motivated by them, as the dissent would have us believe. Under that theory, once again clause 1 would be redundant because clause 2 would have sufficed to reach the very conduct clause 1 was carefully drafted to proscribe. Argentine Republic invoked the canon against extraterritoriality in holding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not apply to the high seas. Presuming that Congress intends to invoke it when it passes a statute relating to the specific subject matter of drug interdiction does not present the same issues of extraterritoriality as asserting jurisdiction over two-thirds of the planet.
Perhaps recognizing the unlikelihood of this scenario, the dissent offers an alternative explanation for the inclusion of clause 1: Congress was aware that the boundaries of the customs territory and the noncustoms territory might change over time, so it “drafted a generic statute that would cover future contingencies.” We are unwilling to speculate, however, that Congress included a statutory provision that was inoperative or nearly so at the time of its enactment just in case there might one day be a need for it. That Congress chose to single out only the transport of drugs from the noncustoms territory to the customs territory rather than the transport between the two territories is a strong indication that Congress did not intend § 952(a) to address “importation” in the opposite (i.e., “outbound”) direction. If it is necessary for a drug shipment to travel through international airspace to get from a customs territory to a noncustoms territory, then it is also necessary for that shipment to travel through international airspace to go in the reverse direction, and clause 2 would apply to both trips. Under the government's broad reading of § 952(a), the transport of drugs on a flight from any U. city to another would be punishable as importation so long as the flight passed through international airspace, no matter how briefly. The majority has no good excuse for putting us at odds with every other circuit to have considered this issue.
Richard helped the couriers tape the packages of methamphetamine to their bodies. (Emphasis added.) This requirement was not an element of § 952(a)' s predecessor statute, 21 U. The addition of the phrase “from any place outside the United States” undercuts the government's contention that Congress intended the origin of a drug shipment to be irrelevant to a finding of importation under § 952(a).