In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Court’s four liberals, the Supreme Court repudiated the Trump administration’s efforts to kill Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative.
The DACA initiative, announced by executive order in 2012, protected approximately 700,000 Dreamers (young people brought into the country without documentation as children, who later had clean records) from deportation, without providing them the path to citizenship that only comprehensive immigration reform in Congress can provide.
Trump, who promised to kill DACA during his presidential campaign, announced he was terminating it in 2017 as an illegal overreach by Obama. But he offered a six-month window to allow for congressional action, essentially using Dreamers as a bargaining chip in his efforts to secure a Border Wall and restrictions in legal immigration. No deal was reached, and federal courts put a hold on the DACA cancellation, which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Now, as the New York Times notes, Trump’s opportunity to kill or politically use DACA depends on what happens in November:
The court’s ruling means the Trump administration officials will have to provide a lower court with a more robust justification for ending the program. That process is likely to take many months, putting the administration’s assault on the program in limbo until after the November election.
It will also put on hold any plans to round up more than 700,000 young immigrants — many of whom have been living in the United States since they were small children — and deport them to foreign countries they may not even remember.
The decision in DHS v. Regents of the University of California explicitly did not address the merits of DACA:
We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. “The wisdom” of those decisions “is none of our concern.” Chenery II, 332 U. S., at 207. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.
The key holding is that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security violated the Administrative Procedures Act in cancelling DACA in 2017. Roberts treats the handling of the cancellation as a sort of tag-team screw-up by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who failed to fully address the Obama administration’s rationale for DACA, and DHS, which relied on Sessions’s conclusion that the program was illegally promulgated.
The Supreme Court was all over the place in areas of the decision beyond the APA finding, for which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan formed a majority with the Chief Justice. Justice Sotomayor dissented from the majority opinion’s dismissal of a separate argument that the DACA cancellation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Justice Clarence Thomas, with Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch concurring, argued that the Court was wading into a matter best left to the “political branches” of the federal government. And Justice Brett Kavanaugh offered a standalone decision arguing that a later clarification of DHS policy towards DACA cured its earlier insufficiencies, and saved it from failing as “arbitrary and capricious” under the ACA standards.
The decision culminated a bad week at the Supreme Court for President Trump, who was on the losing side in the landmark decision on employment discrimination against LGBTQ Americans handed down on Monday, in which his first SCOTUS appointee, Neil Gorsuch, joined the Court’s liberals and wrote the majority opinion. He was feeling the pain on Twitter today:
So two opinions written by George W. Bush appointee John Roberts and Donald Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch represent “shotgun blasts into the faces” of Republicans. Certainly conservative fury at Roberts, who saved Obamacare and stopped the administration from adding a citizenship test to the 2020 census, is going to get much more intense. But for Dreamers and LGBTQ folk, it’s been a surprisingly good week.