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Supreme Court Stops ‘Capricious’ Trump Effort to End DACA (1)

June 18, 2020, 6:22 PM

A divided U.S. Supreme Court dealt a rebuke to President Donald Trump, blocking him from ending the Obama-era program that shields 670,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation and lets them seek jobs.

The justices, voting 5-4 on the central issues, said Trump’s administration didn’t adequately consider its options or the implications before rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, as it’s known, protects people who were brought into the country illegally as children.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal justices in the majority. Roberts said the Department of Homeland Security failed to consider “conspicuous issues,” including the hardship on DACA recipients and the possibility the agency could take a more limited step.

“That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” Roberts wrote. He said the rescission of DACA was “arbitrary and capricious,” violating a federal law that governs administrative agencies.

Trump responded angrily on Twitter, saying the court’s rulings are “horrible & politically charged” and serve as “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”

“Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” the president wrote. The court on Monday ruled against the administration and said federal law protects gay and transgender workers from job discrimination. Trump said he would release a new list of potential conservative Supreme Court nominees by Sept. 1.

Thursday’s decision doesn’t formally preclude Trump from trying again to cancel the program with a stronger explanation, but as a practical matter he will be hard-pressed to do so before the November election.

“What this means is that the federal judiciary, without holding that DACA cannot be rescinded, has prevented that from occurring during an entire presidential term,” dissenting Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “Our constitutional system is not supposed to work that way.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh also dissented. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are Trump appointees.

Roberts said the case didn’t call into question DHS’s authority to rescind DACA.

“All parties agree that it may,” he wrote in his 29-page opinion. “The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.”

The decision represents a surprising victory for DACA defenders at the conservative-controlled court. Arguments in November had suggested the court would back Trump.

It spares DACA at what would have been an especially difficult time for the program to be canceled, with the coronavirus pandemic already creating heightened health and economic worries. An estimated 29,000 DACA recipients are health-care workers.

‘Tears of Joy’

Former President Barack Obama said on Twitter, “Eight years ago this week, we protected young people who were raised as part of our American family from deportation. Today, I’m happy for them, their families, and all of us. We may look different and come from everywhere, but what makes us American are our shared ideals.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor he “cried tears of joy” when he heard about the decision.

The ruling also removes pressure from Senate Republicans seeking re-election in November, given strong support in polling for the program as it currently exists and even for expanding it to include citizenship. Some of those Republicans represent states with high concentrations of Latino voters, including Cory Gardner of Colorado and Martha McSally of Arizona.

Gardner was quick to praise the ruling, saying in a statement he will “continue to work across the aisle” to achieve legislation that gives the young immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” a path to U.S. citizenship.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, called on Trump to abandon efforts to end the DACA program.

“He could decide today or tomorrow or next week to do it again and to do it differently so that this time it might pass muster,” Durbin told reporters. “We know if he decides to rescind it, it’s likely to be challenged in court again, leaving more uncertainty in the lives of these DACA protectees.”

‘Post Hoc’ Rationale

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas blasted Roberts. “If the chief justice believes his political judgment is so exquisite, I invite him to resign, travel to Iowa, and get elected,” Cotton said.

The administration moved to rescind DACA in September 2017 in the face of a threatened challenge to the program by Republican-led states. At the time, the administration said it agreed with those states that the program went beyond Obama’s authority under the federal immigration laws.

Democratic-led states, universities, labor unions, Microsoft Corp. and DACA recipients sued to try to keep the program alive.

Trump’s team later tried to supplement its legal rationale with additional reasons based on policy grounds. In a June 2018 memo, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration believed a case-by-case approach would be wiser than DACA’s exemption of a broad category of people from immigration enforcement.

Roberts said the original DHS explanation, issued by then-acting Secretary Elaine Duke, didn’t grapple with the extent to which affected people had come to rely on the program. Supporters of DACA say rescission would have a sweeping impact, affecting not only the recipients but their employers, schools and 200,000 U.S. citizen children.

Roberts said the agency should have balanced those considerations against its reasons for canceling the program.

“Making that difficult decision was the agency’s job, but the agency failed to do it,” Roberts wrote. He added that Nielsen’s memo contained “impermissible post hoc rationalizations.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Roberts’ opinion. Sotomayor also wrote separately, saying she thought the rescission might violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause. The other justices rejected that rationale.

Census Ruling

Thomas called the DACA program “substantively unlawful” in a dissenting opinion joined by Alito and Gorsuch.

“DHS has no implicit discretion to create new classes of lawful presence or to grant relief from removal out of whole cloth,” Thomas wrote.

The DACA ruling bears similarities to last year’s Supreme Court decision thwarting the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Roberts faulted the administration for giving a “contrived” rationale for adding the question.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said on Twitter that the ruling is a “victory for the country” and “creates an opportunity for the WH and Congress to find a lasting bipartisan approach.”

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which signed a brief in support of DACA, commended the ruling.

“It’s good for our economy and most importantly, it is fair to Dreamers,” said spokesman Jose Castaneda.

Several prominent Washington business groups celebrated the ruling, including the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Removing 700,000 Dreamers protected under DACA from our economy would deny our country talent, future leaders, and an essential piece of the American workforce including teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers, and entrepreneurs,” said chamber chief executive officer Tom Donohue, who also called for lawmakers to protect Dreamers.

The lead case is Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, 18-587.

(Updates with excerpt from Roberts opinion in 11th paragraph, Obama reaction in 14th paragraph)

--With assistance from Ben Brody and Laura Litvan.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at

Laurie Asséo, Ros Krasny

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