On Immigration, “A Mistake Has Been Made” And The Supreme Court Must Fix It

Yesterday’s 2/1 decision by the 5th Circuit was expected, given the make-up of the panel.  But the sharp and persuasive dissent authored by Judge Carolyn Dineen King should not be overlooked, as it points the way for the Supreme Court to step in and correct this egregious mistake.

Judge King cogently asserts that, simply put, the Republican assault on Obama’s executive actions does not belong in court:

The policy decisions at issue in this case are best resolved not by judicial fiat, but via the political process.  That this case essentially boils down to a policy dispute is underscored not only by the dozens of amicus briefs filed in this case by interested parties across the ideological spectrum—Mayors, Senators, Representatives, and law enforcement officials, among others—but also by the district court’s opinion, which repeatedly expresses frustration that the Secretary is “actively act[ing] to thwart” the immigration laws and “is not just rewriting the laws [but is] creating them from scratch.” The majority’s observation that this suit involves “policy disagreements masquerading as legal claims” is also telling.  Whether or not the district court’s characterization of this case is accurate—though the record number of removals in recent years demonstrates that it is not—to the extent some are unhappy with the vigor of DHS’s enforcement efforts, their remedies lie in the political process, not in litigation.

King’s biggest swipe is aimed at her colleagues, Judges Jerry E. Smith and Jennifer Walker Elrod, for their inexplicable slow-walking of the decision which threatened to delay Supreme Court review until June 2017, months after President Obama leaves office.

I have a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made.

King writes,

That mistake has been exacerbated by the extended delay that has occurred in deciding this “expedited” appeal.  There is no justification for that delay.

I dissent.

That’s some very tough language.  And it raises the obvious question—which many have been asking since the panel failed to decide the case within the 5th Circuit’s 60 day decision target: Did Judges Smith and Elrod intentionally delay their decision?

As King correctly observes, in March the 5th Circuit granted the Department of Justice’s request to fast-track the case.  On July 10, Smith, Elrod and King heard argument on the merits of the case.  Why then did it take four long months for the panel to decide; especially when there was little doubt about what Smith and Elrod were going to do?

Nearly everyone watching the case knew the two Republican appointees were all but certain to side with the GOP challenge to Obama’s deferred action program. That’s because in May they both refused to temporarily lift Hanen’s hold on the administration’s immigration actions, stating: “Because the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction, we deny the motion for stay and the request to narrow the scope of the injunction.”

King is right to highlight the court’s incomprehensible delay, which exemplified the legal maxim “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied.”  This case does not just involve legal principles, it involves the lives of 5 million American children and their parents.

On the merits the ruling was hardly a surprise.  The 5th circuit appeals court is considered by many to be the most conservative federal appeals court in the country, and Judges Smith and Elrod are among the most conservative judges on the court. Most observers expected them to side with the Republican governors and attorneys general that filed the case in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville, Texas who earlier this year blocked President Obama’s immigration executive actions from being implemented.

At bottom, Smith’s and Elrod’s decision yesterday was a more detailed version of their order earlier this year refusing to lift the hold that Hanen had put on the executive actions.  In her dissenting opinion King methodically and convincingly dismantled their reasoning.  Her forceful analysis, which provides a clear roadmap for the Supreme Court to reverse the 5th Circuit decision, is perhaps best summarized by King herself:

Even if this case were justiciable, the preliminary injunction, issued by the district court, is a mistake. If the [President’s deferred action guidance] is implemented in the truly discretionary, case-by-case manner it contemplates, it is not subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, and the injunction cannot stand.  Although the very face of the Memorandum makes clear that it must be applied with such discretion, the district court concluded on its own—prior to DAPA’s implementation, based on improper burden-shifting, and without seeing the need even to hold an evidentiary hearing—that the Memorandum is a sham, a mere “pretext” for the Executive’s plan “not [to] enforce the immigration laws as to over four million illegal aliens.”…That conclusion is clearly erroneous.  The majority affirms and goes one step further today.  It holds, in the alternative, that the Memorandum is contrary to the INA and substantively violates the APA.  These conclusions are wrong.  The district court expressly declined to reach this issue without further development…and the limited briefing we have before us is unhelpful and unpersuasive.  For these reasons, as set out below, I dissent.

King also correctly makes a point of reminding her colleagues that deferred action to shield undocumented immigrants is nothing new. It dates back to the Eisenhower administration and has been used by every president since; the most notable example being the “Family Fairness” policy implemented by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.  As King writes:

Much like pretrial diversion in the criminal context—which also developed over a period of decades without express statutory authorization—deferred action channels limited resources by allowing certain low-priority offenders to work openly and contribute taxes, thus reducing their burden on the system.  Notably, such prosecutorial discretion is heightened in the immigration context.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in legal terms yesterday’s decision was actually good news for supporters of Obama’s immigration executive actions and for the millions of DREAMers, American children, and parents who have been patiently waiting for justice.  There is still time for the U.S. Supreme Court to take it up this term and make a decision by June.

Of course the Department of Justice must now do everything in its power to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court immediately.  And once it gets there will be incumbent on the Supreme Court to clean up the integrity that 5th Circuit majority besmirched; to decide the merits of the GOP assault on Obama’s immigration actions without politicizing the case on a partisan basis; to base its decision on facts and precedent rather than conjecture, and do it without engaging in political delays.

[Update:  The Department of Justice has announced it will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal of the 5th Circuit Appeals Court decision]

What to watch for in the appeal of the Texas #immigration lawsuit to the 5th Circuit

Originally posted by America’s Voice

by David Leopold

In March, the 5th Circuit appeals court granted the Obama Administration’s request to fast-track its appeal of Judge Hanen’s preliminary injunction which temporary blocked implementation of DACA expansion and DAPA. The Administration and the plaintiff states agreed to a briefing schedule which requires that all written arguments be filed with the appeals court by the third week in May.

In the meantime, on April 17, the court of appeals will hear oral argument on the Obama Administration’s request that it stay (or temporarily postpone) the hold Judge Hanen placed on DACA expansion and DAPA when he issued his preliminary injunction on February 16.

Importantly, the April 17 hearing is not a hearing on the appeal of Judge Hanen’s preliminary injunction.  It is a hearing on the Obama Administration’s motion to stay (temporarily postpone) the injunction while the court of appeals considers the case.  In effect, what the Obama administration is asking is that the court of appeals stop Judge Hanen’s order from taking effect until it decides the entire case.  So the April 17 hearing is not the final hearing on the appeal.  If, for some reason, the court of appeals does not postpone the injunction that doesn’t mean the Obama Administration has lost the appeal.  It just means the court of appeals has decided to continue to let Judge Hanen’s temporary delay of DACA expansion and DAPA stay in place while they consider the case.

It’s confusing.  But the upshot is that while the April 17 hearing is very important, it’s hopefully just another step along the way to getting the GOP lawsuit thrown out of court—where it belongs.

The appeals court has not yet scheduled Oral argument on the appeal of the preliminary injunction itself. That should happen toward the end of May once the parties are finished briefing the case.

Given the fast track briefing schedule, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could issue a decision on the Obama Administration’s full appeal sometime in June or July.  That means that regardless of whether or not the Court of Appeals temporarily lifts the injunction after the April 17 hearing, if the Obama Administration wins the appeal the delay to DAPA/DACA expansion could be no more than a few weeks.

Stay tuned.

STATES’ LAWSUIT AGAINST EXECUTIVE ACTION HAD FIRST HEARING YESTERDAY; WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Originally posted by America’s Voice

Yesterday, the case filed by 25 states suing President Obama over executive action received its first hearing with federal judge Andrew Hanen.  The defendant (the federal government) has requested until the end of January to file another brief, which means that Hanen’s ruling won’t come until at least February.  There are several things that might happen in his ruling:

  • Standing — this is the first thing that the plaintiff states must establish.  If they can’t demonstrate that they suffer a particular harm due to executive action (and they are claiming all sorts of harms), then they don’t have standing, and the case will be thrown out.
  • Injunction – the states have asked that the judge hand down preliminary injunction while the case is pending.  This would block executive action while the case winds through the legal system.  If the judge has ruled that the states have standing, Hanen can either 1) deny the motion for an injunction, thereby allowing executive action to begin being implemented, 2) grant an injunction, or 3) grant an injunction only in the 25 states that have sued.
  • Stay — if Hanen hands down an injunction, a higher court can issue a stay.  That would freeze Judge Hanen’s decision granting the injunction and once more allow executive action to proceed while the case winds through the courts.

Below, with an informal quick-take and more details is David Leopold, an immigration attorney, legal consultant to America’s Voice and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association:

Does Hanen first need to rule on standing, or can he rule on standing and the injunction at the same time?

Think of standing as the question of whether or not the plaintiffs have shown they have suffered a harm that he can rule on. In other words, I could not sue because someone broke a contract with you. You would have to sue. I would have no standing.

So the judge first needs to agree there is standing, e.g. that the plaintiffs have articulated some harm to them over which he has the authority to rule. If, like the judge in the Arpaio case, he concludes there is no standing, he could dismiss on that basis alone. If he concludes there is standing he then (in the same opinion) will likely rule on the injunction. He could conceivably agree there is standing, but deny the injunction, so the two are not necessarily mutually dependent. Bottom line, the 25 states must show they have standing to sue. If no there is standing, there will be no injunction and the case fails. That would be the best result. According to many observers however, it’s more likely, given the judge’s background, that he’ll agree there is standing and will grant the injunction.

If Hanen issues an injunction would it affect DACA and Morton memos as well as executive action, or just executive action (i.e. DACA expansion, DAPA, new priorities enforcement memos, etc)? 

First, this is a hypothetical question. Let’s remember, the immigration executive actions are solidly legal; they are based constitutional and statutory authority and are consistent with deportation reprieves implemented by presidents of both parties dating back to Eisenhower.

That said, this is a much more difficult question because it involves complicated jurisdictional questions. And I don’t believe scholars are of one view about the answer. The rules governing declaratory judgments give the court authority to declare the rights of parties. Whether or not a ruling declaring the president’s executive actions unlawful would immediately apply across the country is a matter of debate. What’s clear is that an adverse ruling declaring the immigration executive actions unconstitutional, if allowed to stand (which I believe is unlikely at best), would affect DAPA and DACA expansion nationally. It would not impact the Morton memos because those are agency policy directives which are not targeted by the suit, and their legality has not been challenged. Nor would it likely affect most of the immigration executive actions related to business immigration issues. I think an adverse ruling would also effect DACA because the complaint asks for a ruling on the “deferred action program.”

Would an adverse final decision (from SCOTUS) affect DACA and the Morton memos as well as executive action, or just executive action (i.e. DACA expansion, DAPA, new priorities enforcement memos, etc)? In the 25 states or nationwide? 

Again, hypothetically, an adverse SCOTUS ruling would likely affect the well-settled tradition of prosecutorial discretion in general—and throw the entire immigration enforcement system into disarray because it could impact all exercises of deferred action, and, therefore all enforcement decisions. In other words, it wouldn’t be clear how much authority the president has to grant exercised prosecutorial discretion in immigration matters, including deferred action. It would be a royal mess.

But this is outcome his highly unlikely. As recently as its decision in Arizona vs U.S. SCOTUS reaffirmed that “a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.” Moreover, as stated, for decades presidents of both parties have granted deportation reprieves to large classes of undocumented immigrants. According to the Immigration Policy Center perhaps the most striking historical parallel to today’s immigration challenges is the “Family Fairness” policy which led President George H.W. Bush to offer a blanket deferral to as many as 1.5 million spouses and children of immigrants who were legalizing, provided they met certain criteria.

If Hanen issues an injunction and it’s stayed, will DHS be able to continue implementation of the program nationwide?

This is exactly what I predict will happen. And DHS will be able to continue implementation of DAPA and DACA nationwide. At some point some court is going to have to correctly apply the law. My hope is that it will be Judge Hanen who has sworn to uphold the law. But if not, my guess is that it will be the 5th circuit court of appeals—not because they like DAPA or DACA or Obama—but because as a federal appellate court they must ensure the integrity of the judicial system. The 25 states clearly lack standing to bring this suit and that’s exactly what I think the ultimate ruling will turn on.

How much time could pass between the issuing of a preliminary injunction and having it stayed by another court? 

Going out on a limb here, but I believe it will be very short—a matter of hours, if that much. My guess is that in the event of an adverse ruling the government will immediately ask the judge to stay his own order granting the injunction pending appeal. He may or may not do that. If he doesn’t, the government will probably immediately appeal to the 5th circuit and request an emergency hearing. And if that doesn’t work, the government will likely ask SCOTUS to intervene.

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