The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Trump administration on Jan. 27, granting its request to have a lower court’s injunction overturned. In the case of Department of Homeland Security v. New York, the Court ruled 5-4 that DHS can resume its discrimination against those likely to be on public assistance in immigration decisions. Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas voted in the majority to remove an injunction placed on the rule by a New York District Court judge. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would have let the lower court order stand while the case works its way up, likely to the Supreme Court again. Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, wrote an opinion attached to the order about the impropriety of so many district court judges issuing nationwide injunctions.
When immigration officials examine the prospects of an applicant to be in the United States, the law says they should measure the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a public financial burden and not admit those who will. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 says in relevant part: “Any alien who … is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.” The Trump administration announced plans to enforce the law and released an executive rule to do so in August.
The rule was described by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli as follows:
“The public charge regulation defines this law to ensure those seeking to come or stay in the US can successfully support themselves financially and will not rely on public benefits as they seek opportunity here.”
That ruling was challenged in numerous courts and by numerous plaintiffs opposed to the rule. This case involved a particular challenge by the Attorney General of New York, Democrat Letitia James. She sued the Trump administration, claiming the rule was unconstitutional, and alleged in public statements it was used by the administration to discriminate racially against immigrant applicants. The district court judge, Clinton appointee George B. Daniels, agreed and issued a nationwide injunction against the rule’s implementation. Gorsuch excoriated the lower federal courts and their propensity in the Trump era to issue nationwide injunctions.
Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, went through the litany of other injunctions by other courts before openly mocking Daniels:
“Despite the fluid state of things — some interim wins for the government over here, some preliminary relief for plaintiffs over there — we now have an injunction to rule them all: the one before us, in which a single judge in New York enjoined the government from applying the new definition to anyone, without regard to geography or participation in this or any other lawsuit.”
That is no small rebuke for a district court judge coming from an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Gorsuch went on:
“It would be delusional to think that one stay today suffices to remedy the problem. The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them. Whether framed as injunctions of ‘nationwide,’ ‘universal,’ or ‘cosmic’ scope, these orders share the same basic flaw — they direct how the defendant must act toward persons who are not parties to the case.”
Gorsuch goes on to say, “the routine issuance of universal injunctions is patently unworkable, sowing chaos for litigants, the government, courts, and all those affected by these conflicting decisions.” He concludes, “What in this gamesmanship and chaos can we be proud of?” The case will return to the lower court for a hearing on the merits and likely be appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals for ruling, which will then likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.