While Dreamers and immigration advocates were celebrating Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that blocked the Trump administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in a separate opinion that the high court’s majority did not get everything right.
There was, in her view, something else that should not have gone unnoticed.
Sotomayor drew a clear line between President Donald Trump’s history of remarks against Mexicans and immigrants and the administration's position on DACA. She wrote that “something other than questions about the legality of DACA” was behind the administration’s decision to end the program.
The president’s words, in her view, provided important context. Trump has called Mexican immigrants “people with lots of problems” “the bad ones,” and “criminals, drug dealers and rapists,” and compared undocumented immigrants to “animals," she wrote.
The decision to end the DACA program, Sotomayor stated, was “contaminated by the impermissible discriminatory animus” —and she called out her colleagues for not acknowledging this.
In Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, Chief Justice John Roberts surprised many court observers in siding with the liberal justices, finding that the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.”
But Sotomayor noted that the Court was overlooking Trump’s history of remarks about Latinos and immigrants to explain why he wanted to end a program that allows young undocumented teens and adults, brought to the U.S. as children, to be able to work and study without fear of deportation.
"I would not so readily dismiss the allegation that an executive decision disproportionately harms the same racial group that the President branded as less desirable mere months earlier,” wrote Sotomayor.
Sotomayor thought that her colleagues should have given legal weight to Trump’s remarks.
Roberts was wrong to discount these comments, she wrote, in his opinion. “The plurality brushes these aside as “unilluminating,” “remote in time,” and having been “made in unrelated contexts,” Sotomayor wrote. Nothing in the Court’s precedent supported what she termed a “blinkered approach” to judicial review of the DACA program.
Sotomayor's concurrence garnered much attention throughout the day, with Latino historian and Yale professor Stephen Pitti tweeting that Sotomayor "corrects the majority."
This is not the first time Sotomayor has chided her fellow justices. In a February dissent, she warned that her conservative colleagues were giving the appearance of bending rules to benefit Trump.
The sole Latina on the high court, Sotomayor was appointed by President Obama in 2009 and confirmed that same year.