The U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote on Thursday blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting undocumented young immigrants from deportation.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the authority to terminate the program, known as DACA, then-Acting Secretary Elaine Duke failed to give an adequate explanation when she announced a decision to wind it down in 2017.
The court majority led by Roberts said Duke didn’t give a “reasoned explanation,” as required by a federal administrative law, and didn’t weigh the hardship on DACA recipients and their families, schools and employers against other policy considerations.
“Making that difficult decision was the agency’s job, but the agency failed to do it.”
The DACA program was established by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2012. It currently protects nearly 650,000 young people who arrived in the United States as children, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. More than one-fourth of them live in California, he said.
Becerra represented California in one of the lawsuits challenging the termination of the program.
University of California President Janet Napolitano, who filed another of the lawsuits, called the ruling “a victory for hundreds of thousands of young people who are making vital contributions to their families, schools, employers, and the nation.”
The high court ruled on three preliminary injunctions issued by federal judges in San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., in a total of about nine lawsuits challenging the program termination.
Five of the lawsuits were filed in federal court in San Francisco, where U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a preliminary injunction that was upheld in 2018 by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams, who filed one of the cases, said:
“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a victory for all Americans and a repudiation of the Trump administration’s heartless, anti-immigrant policies.”
The Supreme Court sent the dispute back to the Department of Homeland Security “so that it may consider the problem anew.”
Acting Homeland Security Department Secretary Chad Wolf stated:
“The DACA program was created out of thin air and implemented illegally. This ruling usurps the clear authority of the executive branch to end unlawful programs.”
Wolf did not say whether the agency plans to start a new process to terminate the program.
California officials including Becerra and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called on Congress to enact a permanent solution to protect DACA recipients, known as Dreamers.
“The Trump administration could still end the program in other ways, which is why Congress must act.”
Roberts was joined in the majority decision by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sandra Sotomayor.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissented. Thomas wrote that DACA was “unlawful from its inception” and charged that the majority ruling was “an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”
The court’s ruling was based on the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits “arbitrary and capricious” actions by executive agencies. In previous decisions, the high court has interpreted that provision to require “a reasoned explanation” and consideration of “relevant factors.”
The five lawsuits that began in federal court in San Francisco in 2017 were filed by the University of California; the state of California and three other states; the city of San Jose; six individuals; and Santa Clara County together with the Service Employees International Union.
Other lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Brooklyn, New York, and Washington, D.C., by 17 other states led by New York, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other groups.
The San Francisco lawsuits were the only set of cases to be ruled on by a federal appeals court. The Justice Department began appeals in the other two sets, but also asked the Supreme Court to bypass the appeals courts and take up the cases directly.
The high court granted that request in June 2019 and heard arguments in November.
Trump, referring to Thursday’s decision and another Supreme Court ruling filed on Monday, 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.”
In the other decision, the court said by a 6-3 vote that the U.S. Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex-based employment discrimination extends to job bias against gay, lesbian and transgender people.