The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision on Friday, upheld the Biden administration’s immigration guidelines that prioritized which noncitizens to deport, rejecting a challenge from two generals the state’s Republican attorney general has argued that the policies violate immigration law.
The court said that the states, Texas and Louisiana, There is no “standing,” or legal right, to sue in the first place over a decision that further explains when a state can challenge a federal policy in court in the future.
The decision is a major victory for President Joe Biden and the White House, which has always argued that it must prioritize who it detains and deports given limited resources. By ruling against the states, the court tightened the rules about when states can challenge federal policies they disagree with. The Biden administration’s policy was halted by a federal judge nearly two years ago and the Supreme Court declined to lift that hold last year.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion in the case on Friday.
“Overall, the states have brought a remarkably unusual case,” Kavanaugh wrote, in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “They want a federal court to order the Executive Branch to change its arrest policies to make more arrests. Federal courts have not traditionally welcomed that kind of lawsuit; in fact , the States set no precedent for a lawsuit like this.”
Kavanaugh said the executive branch traditionally has discretion when taking enforcement actions under federal law. He said that if the court allows the states to file the case, it would “require a broad judicial direction” on the executive arrest policy and open the door to more lawsuits from states that think the executive is absent. enough has been done. enforce the law in other areas such as drug and gun regulation and obstruction of justice laws.
“We refuse to start the Federal Judiciary down that uncharted path,” Kavanaugh said.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, wrote a concurring opinion concluding that the states also lacked standing, but for different reasons than the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.
At the center of the dispute is a September 2021 memo from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas outlining priorities for arresting and removing certain non-citizens, echoing former President Donald Trump’s efforts to increase those deportation.
In his memo, Mayorkas stated that there are approximately 11 million undocumented or otherwise removable non-citizens in the country and that the United States does not have the ability to arrest and seek to remove them all. Thus, the Department of Homeland Security seeks to prioritize those who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.
Kavanaugh’s opinion emphasized that the standing doctrine “helps protect the proper — and properly limited — role of the Judiciary in our constitutional system.” He said that by ensuring that one party has standing to sue, “the federal courts prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the political branches.”
The majority does not address the underlying question of whether the administration has the authority to implement the policy.
“We have no position on whether the executive branch here fulfilled its statutory obligations under §1226(c) and §1231(a)(2),” Kavanaugh wrote, referring to the relevant statutes of immigration. “We simply believe that the federal courts are not the proper forum to resolve this dispute.”
Kavanaugh pointed out that five presidential administrations have determined that resource constraints require prioritizing immigration arrests.
In his full dissent, Alito wrote that this “sweeping executive power endorsed by today’s decision may at first be warmly received by the champions of a strong President in power, but if presidents can expand their powers as much as they can in a test of strength with. Congress, Congress is likely to curtail executive power as much as it can by using the formidable weapons at its disposal.
“That’s not what the Constitution envisions,” he wrote.
Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst who filed an amicus brief in the immigration case, noted that Friday’s ruling was the second decision in the past week in which the court “thought that the red states lack standing to challenge a federal policy — perhaps a signal of dissatisfaction with how lower courts, particularly the Fifth Circuit, have allowed these challenges to proceed.
“And this is the second in the last two years where it has overturned a national injunction against a Biden immigration policy in a suit brought in Texas,” Vladeck said. “Whether states are the right plaintiffs to challenge federal policies is also one of the central issues before the court in challenges to Biden’s student loan program — where the court is expected to rule next week.”
Kavanaugh’s opinion emphasized that, in “holding that Texas and Louisiana lack standing, we are not suggesting that federal courts may not entertain cases involving alleged failures of the executive branch to create more arrests or bringing more prosecutions.”
In court, US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar stressed that Congress has never provided funding to detain everyone, prompting various administrations to consider how to prioritize limited funding. He noted that the executive branch retains the authority to focus “limited resources” on non-citizens who have a higher priority for removal and warned that if the states prevail, it will “crowd out” enforcement. of land immigration, leading to a completely unmanageable landscape. He said looking at case states is a “nonsensical” way to run an immigration system.
“I think that’s not good for the executive branch. I think it’s not good for the American public and I think it’s not good for the Article Three courts,” he said.
The guidelines call for an examination of the “totality of the facts and circumstances” rather than the development of a bright-line rule. The government lists aggravating factors that weigh in favor of an enforcement action, including the seriousness of the offense and the use of a weapon, but it also lists mitigating factors that include the immigrant’s age.
Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone, who represents Texas and Louisiana, argued that the administration did not have the authority to issue the memo because it was against existing federal law. He accused the government of treating immigration law in the area as “discretionary” and not “mandatory” and argued that the executive branch does not have the authority to “override” the directive of Congress.
“States prove their standing at trial on the basis of well-recognized damages,” Stone said, emphasizing the costs incurred when the government “violates federal law.”
A district court judge blocked the guidelines nationwide. “Using the words ‘discretion’ and ‘precedence,’ the executive branch is assuming the authority to suspend legislative orders,” Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee to the US District Court, ruled. for the Southern District of Texas. “The law does not allow this approach.”
A federal appeals court declined to issue a stay of the decision, prompting the Biden administration to ask the Supreme Court for emergency relief in July. A 5-4 court ruled against the administration, allowing the lower court’s decision to remain in effect while the legal challenge plays out.
Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined her three liberal colleagues in dissenting without providing an explanation for her vote.
This story has been updated with additional details.