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Capitolworks: Just the Facts… What is the Supreme Court Actually Ruling on in This Most Recent DACA

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday surrounding the legality of the Trump administration’s decision to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is an immigration policy implemented under the Obama administration which has allowed roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants to receive deferred action on deportation. These are renewable every two years, essentially ensuring that as long as these immigrants don’t violate any laws, that they will be allowed to stay in the United States.

The Trump administration has been toying with the idea of eliminating DACA since 2017 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that he believed the program was unlawful and that President Obama had exceeded his executive authority through the implementation of this program. However, this is not the legal challenge behind the current Supreme Court case. Rather, the case surrounds whether or not the Trump administration has provided sufficient evidence as to the reasons which his administration is withdrawing support for the program. In a statement from Chief Justice John Roberts, he claimed that executive agencies must provide “genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public,” and that “Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise.” While this may sound like obfuscating legal jargon, Justice Roberts is essentially stating that the Trump administration must prove that their reasons for eliminating DACA are legitimate.

Proponents of DACA argue that the Trump Administration has violated the Administrative Procedure Act in its decision to roll back DACA protections, which is a law that dictates how federal agencies can establish and enforce regulations. On the flip side, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who represents the Trump administration, argues that "A decision to rescind a policy of nonenforcement is a quintessential action committed to an agency's absolute discretion," essentially arguing that the courts don’t have the standing to adjudicate on this decision. Additionally, Francisco argues that the Trump administration provided sufficient justification for rolling back DACA in the form of a 2018 memo written by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen. The memo described the reasons why the Trump administration felt that DACA was a bad piece of policy, laying the groundwork for the rollback.

So far, the Justices are fairly split surrounding their opinions on the case. Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas have seemed to side with the Trump administration, with Alito stating that “Whenever a law enforcement agency has guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and it then tightens those guidelines so that cases that previously would not have been prosecuted may now be prosecuted, that is not up for judicial review.” The four more liberal justices, however, have come out against the Trump administration. Justice Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts have not yet displayed which side they will ultimately choose.

There are many potential outcomes related to this particular court case including the Court’s decision to not offer ruling and instead, send the issue back to the lower courts to decide. A ruling of any is not expected until the spring, meaning that not only is the program’s future an unknown but so are the futures of those individuals relying on this program.

*Contributing Author: Justin Cooksey

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