Supreme Court blocks Trump from ending DACA in big win for Dreamers

Chief Justice John Roberts was the swing vote in the 5-4 decision, dealing a big legal defeat to President Trump on the issue of immigration.
By Pete Williams and Adam Edelman

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot carry out its plan to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S.

Chief Justice John Roberts was the swing vote in the 5-4 decision, which deals a big legal defeat to President Donald Trump on the issue of immigration, a major focus of his domestic agenda.

Roberts wrote in the decision that the government failed to give an adequate justification for ending the federal program. The administration could again try to shut it down by offering a more detailed explanation for its action, but the White House might not want to end such a popular program in the heat of a presidential campaign.

Roberts was joined in the majority by the liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

"We conclude that the acting secretary did violate" the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the decision to rescind DACA "must be vacated," Roberts wrote. In his decision, Roberts called the Trump administration's "total rescission" of DACA "arbitrary and capricious."

The heart of Robert’s majority opinion held that Trump had broken the laws governing federal agencies when he ended DACA in 2017because the memorandum that recommended its termination did not address crucial parts of the policy.

In addition, every justice in the majority except Sotomayor dismissed the argument made by the parties that brought the case to the Supreme Court that the administration’s decision to terminate DACA was motivated by discrimination against Latinos.

Critically, however, Roberts pointed out in his decision that it wasn't necessarily unconstitutional for the Trump administration to terminate DACA, but the way it did so was.

The chief justice pointed out toward the end of his opinion that the administration's Department of Homeland Security could simply revisit its legal strategy on how to unwind DACA in the future.

"The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may reconsider the problem anew," Roberts wrote.

The conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh filed opinions that concurred with parts of the majority as well as with parts of the dissent — with several emphasizing that the majority ruling simple punted the issue back to the administration.

"The Court still does not resolve the question of DACA’s rescission," Alito wrote in his dissent. "Instead, it tells the Department of Homeland Security to go back and try again."

Thomas, in his dissent, wrote, "Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision." He added that the court "could have made clear" that a solution to the question over the status of the program must come from Congress through immigration legislation.

"Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own," he wrote. "In doing so, it has given the greenlight for future political battles to be fought in this Court rather than where they rightfully belong — the political branches."

Reaction pours in

Moments after the decision came down, Trump lashed out it the court, retweeting a screenshot of that part of Thomas' dissent. The president later tweeted, "These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives," and asked, "Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?"

Trump also said recent court decisions showed the need for new justices, adding that he would release a list of potential nominees by Sept. 1.

Later Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said "the DACA program was created out of thin air and implemented illegally."

"The American people deserve to have the Nation’s laws faithfully executed as written by their representatives in Congress — not based on the arbitrary decisions of a past administration," Wolf said in a statement. "This ruling usurps the clear authority of the executive branch to end unlawful programs.”

The Supreme Court's decision was widely met with praise from various Democratic lawmakers, business leaders, immigrants and advocacy groups.

Joe Biden called the ruling a victory that was “made possible by the courage and resilience of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients who bravely stood up and refused to be ignored.”

Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, vowed, if elected, to “immediately work to make it permanent by sending a bill to Congress on Day One of my administration.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., choked up on the Senate floor moments after the Supreme Court announced its decision.

Schumer said he “cried tears of joy” and called the decision, as well as the court's ruling Monday that existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status, “a bright ray of sunshine.”

“Who would’ve thought,” he said repeatedly, remarking "wow" several times.

Apple CEO Tim Cook lauded the decision, tweeting, "We're glad for today’s decision and will keep fighting until DACA’s protections are permanent."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue called the ruling "the right decision for Dreamers, our economy, and our country," adding that removing DACA recipients "would deny our country talent, future leaders, and an essential piece of the American workforce including teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers, and entrepreneurs."

And the National Immigration Law Center tweeted, "VICTORY."

Former President Barack Obama, who put DACA into place by executive order in 2012, also applauded the decision and urged Americans to vote for his former vice president, Biden, in November because he would create a "system that’s truly worthy of this nation of immigrants once and for all."

After the Department of Homeland Security ordered the program ended, lower court rulings allowed DACA to keep going, letting young people in the program to reapply every two years and remain under its protection. Children of illegal immigrants were allowed to remain here if they were under 16 when their parents brought them to the U.S. and if they arrived by 2007.

DACA's defenders had argued that federal law required the Trump administration to give a detailed explanation before trying to shut the program down — an action that would affect hundreds of thousands of people and the businesses that employ them. Instead, they said, the government simply declared the program illegal. More than 100 business groups, including Apple and Microsoft, sought to preserve DACA, arguing many of their employees are part of the program.

Immigration lawyers told the Supreme Court after the case was argued last fall that front-line health care workers involved in responding to the coronavirus epidemic rely on about 27,000 DACA recipients, "including dentists, pharmacists, physician assistants, home health aides, technicians" and nearly 200 medical students.

"Termination of DACA during this national health emergency would be catastrophic," they said in an April 2 court filing. The Association of American Medical Colleges told the court last fall — well before the pandemic crisis — that the U.S. is unprepared "to fill the loss that would result if DACA recipients were excluded from the health care workforce."

Figures show that over 90 percent of DACA participants have a job. Nearly half are in school. Many don't speak the language or know the culture of their home countries.

Among them is Claudia Quinonez of Maryland, brought to the U.S. at age 11 by her mother, who overstayed a tourist visa.

"DACA truly changed my life. I have a Social Security number. I have the ability to work, to contribute, and pay taxes," she said.