In unusual move, White House to ask Supreme Court to rule on DACA before appeals court

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will rush to the U.S. Supreme Court within a few days by skipping over a federal appeals court, hoping for quick action in the legal battle over shutting down the DACA program.

"It's an extremely unusual request, one that is granted once in a blue moon," said Tom Goldstein, publisher of the SCOTUSBlog website. "It's a signal by the Trump administration that they take this issue incredibly seriously and think the justices should, too."

A federal judge ruled Jan. 9 that the government could not end the program on March 6, as President Donald Trump proposed to do. DACA allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children to remain in the U.S., study in school and get work permits.

Judge William Alsup ruled that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrongly concluded that DACA was put in place without proper legal authority. The judge blocked the government from taking any steps to end the DACA program.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department said it would file a challenge to that ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But it also said it will, within a few days, ask the Supreme Court to step in before the appeals court acts.

"We are now taking the rare step of requesting direct review on the merits of this injunction by the Supreme Court so that this issue may be resolved quickly and fairly for all the parties involved," Sessions said in announcing the forthcoming legal action.

He said he will challenge the California judge's decision to impose a nationwide ban on the government's effort to phase out DACA.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday that 690,000 people are currently enrolled in the program, and that the administration had no intention of renewing it beyond the March 6 deadline.

The Supreme Court almost never agrees to hear cases before the federal appeals courts have ruled on them. Supreme Court rules do, however, allow such exceptional review when a case of "imperative public importance" requires immediate action.

If the justices decline to take the case now, the government could ask the appeals court to block the effect of Alsup's order while the case is on appeal.