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When a boat carrying Elian Gonzalez, his mother, and 12 other Cuban nationals sank off the coast of Florida in November 1999, Elian's mother drowned and he found himself at the centre of an international custody battle. It made countless front-page newspaper headlines through April 2000. Substantial media coverage extended well beyond April. And President Fidel Castro of Cuba was giving Elian headline status in October during the course of a televised interview on the CBC.
After seven months of bitter recrimination, dubious decision-making, and intense legal struggle, Elian Gonzalez and his father returned to Cuba. Despite their euphoric welcome in Havana, the haunting question remains: Was justice done to Elian? Let's try to find some answers.
On 1 June 2000, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, ruled that Elian was not entitled to a hearing on asylum in the United States. His Miami relatives were given two weeks to appeal the decision to the same panel, to the full Court of Appeals, or to the United States Supreme Court. Counsel for the relatives left little doubt that they would pursue every available avenue of appeal. Indeed, on 15 June they filed a request that the full, 12-member Court of Appeals reverse the decision of the three-judge panel. At least a majority of the Court would have had to vote in favour of rehearing the case. On 23 June, the Court ruled unanimously against the Miami relatives.
On 26 June, the relatives appealed to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of an earlier extension that was due to expire on 28 June at 4:00 pm. Lawyers for the relatives asked that the justices be given at least two weeks to consider the appeal `on a very, very fast timetable.' (1) The key contention was that the `overwhelming weight of federal appellate decisions in [the United States] would have given Elian Gonzalez the absolute constitutional right to an asylum hearing five months ago.' (2)
On 28 June, the Supreme Court issued a 26-word statement: `The application for stay presented to Justice [Anthony] Kennedy and by him referred to the court is denied. The petition for a writ of certiorari [appeal] is denied.' (3) The …