Supreme Court ruling upholds DACA program for young, undocumented immigrants
The Trump administration wanted to dismantled the program protecting so-called "Dreamers," but the Supreme Court decided against it. Wochit
WASHINGTON – A deeply divided Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration Thursday from ending a popular program that allows nearly 650,000 young, undocumented immigrants to live and work in the USA without fear of deportation.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, called the Department of 真人百家家乐官网网站homeland Security's action "arbitrary and capricious," therefore unlawful. The ruling was 5-4: The court's four liberal justices agreed, and the four more conservative justices dissented.
"We do not decide whether DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or its rescission are sound policies," Roberts said. "We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients."
It was a similar outcome to last year's effort by the Trump administration to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census. In that case as well, Roberts joined the four liberal justices in ruling that the administration had not justified its action.
It was the second major ruling this week in which the conservative court dealt a setback to the Trump administration. Monday, it ruled 6-3 in an opinion by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch that the LGBTQ community is protected under a federal law banning sex discrimination in the workplace.
Roberts rejected the argument that the winding down of the program was a violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because of animus against Hispanics. Had the court ruled that the equal protection principle had been violated, DACA would have been more fully protected from a new effort to dismantle it.
The court's conservatives agreed with the conclusion that there was no racial animus. Only Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the main dissent, in which he said the DACA program was unlawful from the moment President Barack Obama created it in 2012. Gorsuch and Associate Justice Samuel Alito agreed.
USA TODAY spoke with four DACA recipients in Austin, Texas about the Supreme Court hearing the case that will decide the fate of the program. USA TODAY
"The decision to countermand an unlawful agency action is clearly reasonable," Thomas said. "So long as the agency’s determination of illegality is sound, our review should be at an end."
President Donald Trump tweeted a quote from Thomas' dissent in which the court's most conservative justice called the ruling "an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive Democratic opponent in November, called the ruling "a victory made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who bravely stood up and refused to be ignored." He pledged to seek congressional legislation next year to give them permanent protection if he defeats Trump at the polls.
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote separately in dissent and decried Roberts' ruling for continuing the uncertainty surrounding the program's legal status.
"That uncertainty is a result of Congress’s inability thus far to agree on legislation, which in turn has forced successive administrations to improvise, thereby triggering many rounds of relentless litigation with the prospect of more litigation to come," Kavanaugh said.
Battling the coronavirus
Thousands of DACA recipients serve during the coronavirus pandemic as doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health care workers. That prompted immigration rights groups to file court papers urging the justices to leave the program alone.
Before Thursday, nearly every federal judge to hear the dispute sided with the immigrants, the so-called Dreamers, leaving the program intact nationwide. Some observers said the Supreme Court's decision last June to hear the case signaled a potential win for the White House. Instead, the high court delivered another surprise to the administration, the second this week.
The question before the justices in November was not whether the Trump administration can wind down the program, which is undisputed. Rather, they were asked to decide whether the administration's initial reason for doing so – that DACA was illegal from the start – was accurate and sufficient and whether officials followed the Administrative Procedure Act in seeking to rescind the program.
Roberts was presumed to be the deciding vote all along, as he was last year when he voted with the court's four liberal justices to strike down the Trump administration's effort to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census.
His reasoning here was nearly identical. The administration sought to bolster its reasons for ending DACA by amending its September 2017 determination nine months later. That was good enough for four conservative justices, but Roberts said the new 真人百家家乐官网网站homeland Security secretary should have issued a completely new decision.
"The basic rule here is clear: An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it acted," he wrote, referring to the faulty rescission in 2017. "This is not the case for cutting corners to allow DHS to rely upon reasons absent from its original decision."
Obama created the program eight years ago after negotiations with Congress to create a path to citizenship for the young immigrants faltered. Several years later, he sought to extend similar protections to more than 4 million undocumented parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents, but that was shot down by federal courts.
Texas threatened to sue over DACA if the Trump administration didn't end it. When the Department of 真人百家家乐官网网站homeland Security did so, lawsuits were filed from California to New York and several places in between, and two federal judges blocked the action nationwide.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in California and a perpetual thorn in Trump's side, ridiculed the effort to deport "blameless and economically productive young people with clean criminal records."
the former president tweeted. "Today, I'm happy for them, their families, and all of us."
The threat of losing their protected status prompted hundreds of DACA recipients to march, ride or fly to Washington for November's oral argument and stage demonstrations outside the court.
Nearly three dozen legal briefs were submitted on their side by groups representing big business, educators, religious institutions, labor unions, law enforcement and national security groups, along with immigration and civil rights organizations.
As news of the high court's ruling spread Thursday, Democratic officials, immigration rights organizations and other liberal groups celebrated.
"Ending DACA would have been cruel to the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who call America 真人百家家乐官网网站home, and it would have been bad for our nation's health," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who brought one of several court challenges. "Today we prevailed on behalf of every Dreamer who has worked hard to help build our country – our neighbors, teachers, doctors and first responders."
Theodore Olson, the conservative former U.S. solicitor general who represented DACA recipients during oral argument, said, "The decision to end this policy without a lawful, genuine and transparent explanation was inconsistent with the rule of law, as the court recognized."
Other conservatives blasted the court and Roberts in particular. The chief justice has become the court's swing vote, frequently opposing the Trump administration.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who served as a law clerk to Roberts, called it "the most disappointing week at #SCOTUS in years" on Twitter.