Supreme Court will Decide Fate of President Obama's Immigration Executive Order

The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the legal challenge against President Obama’s unilateral immigration reform plan which effectively grants amnesty by refusing to prosecute many undocumented immigrants who are in the country illegally.  The President announced his immigration policy reforms in November of 2014, causing a political showdown with Conservatives who argued Mr. Obama does not have the Constitutional authority to make sweeping policy declarations without the support of Congress.  Almost immediately after its inception, the President’s immigration plan faced a challenge in federal court which has now worked its way to SCOTUS’s upcoming spring docket.

Obama Immigration Policy Challenged in Federal Court

The President’s immigration order would allow more than 4 million men, women, and children who either entered the country illegally or were born to undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation procedures and pursue a pathway to legal citizenship.  Supporters of the President’s action welcomed the policy as a step towards resolution of rising concerns about the increase of unlawful immigration while opponents argued Mr. Obama not only exceeded his constitutional authority by unilaterally creating law and overly burdened border states by forcing them to sustain millions of undocumented immigrants who could otherwise be deported.

In response to a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states immediately after the President issued his order, a Texas federal judge issued an injunction prohibiting its ongoing implementation. The legal ruling against President Obama’s immigration policy by saying the executive had effectively passed a new law by neglecting to enforce existing immigration statutes, and was therefore in violation of the constitution because Congress was not involved.  Following the adverse opinion, the Obama administration filed an appeal to higher levels of federal court in an effort to implement the President’s policy as intended.  Lower courts have upheld the injunction against the President’s action, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to issue a final opinion to settle the matter.

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Obama Immigration Policy

The states joined against the President’s immigration order in United States v Texas argue that Obama’s executive order goes beyond a simply decision to withhold prosecution against undocumented immigrants, but instead “expressly grants alien work-permit eligibility and lawful presence in this country,” which entitles them to tax credits, unemployment benefits, and other government aid which they may not otherwise have access to.  Challenger to the law argue that by declining to enforce existing immigration policy and effectively conferring many of the rights of citizenship, the President has bypassed Congress and unlawfully passed a nation-wide law.

The President has argued throughout the legal process that his policy is designed to narrow the focus of immigration prosecutions to terrorists or other law-breakers in order to ensure the Justice Department’s time and energy are well spent.  Pointing to the millions of “hard working people who have become integrated members of American society” who are not likely to be deported given the lack of resources, attorneys for the government have argued the President’s immigration policy is designed to promote a focused and effective approach to deportations which welcomes those who are willing to work while arresting immigrants who are intent on causing harm to America.

Further, the Justice Department has cautioned that if the states are successful in their challenge then the case would establish a dangerous precedent of state power to subvert federal immigration enforcement policy. 

Supreme Court Adds Interesting Legal Question to the Case

During its trip through lower courts, the central issue in United States v Texas has been whether the President’s immigration order represents a lawful shift in enforcement priorities or is instead an unconstitutional use of executive authority.  When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case earlier this week, however, the Justices took the rare step of directing attorneys for both sides to prepare arguments regarding an additional question: whether the President’s policy violates the “take care” clause of the Constitution.

The clause reads, “The President shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” and its appearance in the legal community is rare to say the least.  To this point the history of American jurisprudence there are very few – if any – cases in which the take care clause has been used as a tool to limit the authority of the President or to overturn an executive order.  The added rarity of the Supreme Court agreeing to decide an issue which was not litigated during lower court proceedings taken with the uniqueness of a take care clause review makes the Obama immigration legal challenge another historical and compelling case for a Court which has already left a significant mark.  The Justices will hear arguments in United States v Texas in April and release an opinion in June.

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