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Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Supreme Court Texas vs. United States

imm_6On Monday, April 18, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Texas v. United States, 15-674, which is the action by the State of Texas (along with 25 other states) to block the Obama Administration’s implementation of expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (“DAPA”).

I noted in an earlier piece that in addition to the questions presented by the Obama Administration’s petition,[1] the Court also directed the parties to brief and argue the plaintiff-states’ Take Care Clause claim.[2]  Another big issue that the Court would need to address, indeed a threshold issue, is whether the State of Texas had “standing” to bring the action in the first place.

Prior to oral argument, most commentators (whether legal or otherwise) thought that Chief Justice Roberts might avoid dealing with the main issues in the case, and instead focus on the threshold issue of standing, the question being whether the states challenging the Obama Administration’s plan to implement DAPA and expanded DACA suffered the sort of direct and concrete injury that gives them standing to sue.  Historically, Chief Justice Roberts has not been a proponent of resolving political disputes in the courts, which this one obviously is.

Texas (and the other states) argued that they have standing because they might incur  additional costs when issuing drivers’ licenses to beneficiaries of the DACA and DAPA initiatives.  In reality however, these claims are nothing more than allegations of indirect or incidental effects, and interestingly, since the State of Texas subsidizes driver’s licenses, any alleged harm is really of its own creation.

In my view, the issue of standing became much more important with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016.[3]  If Chief Justice Roberts was really focused on the threshold issue of standing, he might then try to decide the case on more narrow procedural grounds, and avoid what could end up being a deadlock of 4 – 4 among the remaining voting justices (and thereby allowing the district court’s injunction prohibiting the implementation of the Obama Administration’s November 2014 immigration program to stand).

And then came April 18.  Within minutes of the opening of oral arguments, Chief Justice Roberts seemed troubled, if not unpersuaded, by the Obama Administration’s argument on standing.  Essentially, Chief Justice Roberts stated that if Texas did deny licenses to DACA and DAPA beneficiaries, those individuals would then likely sue the state, perhaps on Equal Protection grounds.  Chief Justice Roberts opined that this would put Texas in “a real Catch-22” (i.e., the state can remedy the legal harm by refusing to give licenses to some immigrants, but in doing so, it would open itself up to a lawsuit).  Not a good start at all.

The Court then went into the real issues, and not surprisingly, the justices were pretty much split down ideological grounds.  So, what could happen?

First, I suppose the Court could still dismiss the action for a lack of standing.  If this happens, the entire case will come to an end.  The Obama Administration could then implement DAPA and expanded DACA.  Unfortunately, I don’t see this as likely (but I can still dream).

Second, the Court could reverse the Fifth Circuit on any number of legal issues, thereby allowing the Obama Administration’s initiatives to move forward. If it did so, however, this would likely not be the end of the lawsuit. That’s because the district court could then go on to decide if the Obama Administration’s initiatives are constitutional. And, then the decision of the district court could be appealed, basically meaning the entire case could go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court … again.

Finally, the Court could affirm the Fifth Circuit, which would uphold the district court’s preliminary injunction. This means the case would also go back to the district court for the case to simply continue on.  As with the second scenario, any resulting district court decision could later be appealed, meaning the case could again go back to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court.

I have noted this before.  President Obama’s administrative action was but the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations.  According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together.  Today, however, the climate is very different, and what essentially should be a legislative issue being resolved in Congress is now a political issue being resolved in the federal courts.

Now it’s a waiting game until the end of the Court’s term in June.    It seems to me, based upon Chief Justice Roberts’ questions, that the odds of a favorable decision from the Court at this juncture are not very high.

[1] The questions presented by the Obama Administration were (a) whether a State that voluntarily provides a subsidy to all aliens with deferred action has Article III standing and a justiciable cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., to challenge the Guidance because it will lead to more aliens having deferred action, (b) whether the Guidance is arbitrary and capricious or otherwise not in accordance with law, and (c) whether the Guidance was subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures.  The “Guidance” refers to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum dated November 20, 2014 directing his subordinates to establish a process for considering deferred action for certain aliens who have lived in the United States for five years and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

[2] The question presented here was “[w]hether the Guidance violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution, Art. II, §3.”

[3] Clearly nobody who follows the Supreme Court was counting on Justice Scalia to vote in favor of the Obama Administration’s position in this case in any event.


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

David W. Meyers, Esq. is managing partner of Meyers & Meyers, LLP. David works with individuals, businesses and higher education institutions helping them resolve any issues regarding immigration, citizenship and naturalization for themselves or their employees.

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