Stage Set For A Supreme Court Battle Over Obama’s Immigration Actions

An appeals court delivered a major if not expected blow to President Obama’s immigration policies Monday.

If there was a silver lining for supporters of Obama’s immigration actions, it was that the court decided the case in way that made it more likely that the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in their favor. Legal experts said that was so broad as to change the fundamental role of the judicial branch in intervening in disagreements between states and the federal government.

The administration is also likely breathing a sigh of relief that the decision gives the White House enough of a window — if just barely — to appeal the decision in time for Supreme Court decision at the end of the 2015-2016 term, ahead of November’s elections.

Still, the ruling against the White House by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was greeted with cheers from conservatives, who have made a top priority obstructing Obama from pursuing what they say is a lawless and unilateral agenda. The decision continues to the block the administration from implementing immigration executive action that was supposed to be a major point in the president’s legacy.

The case is now expected to head up to the Supreme Court, as the Justice Department has already promised to appeal it. If the high court does take the case up, the stage is set for an election season showdown that could determine whether one of Obama’s key achievements will last even the length of his presidency. It will also make immigration likely a central issue during the 2016 campaign, particularly if a final decision comes down before the election.

In its decision released Monday evening, the appeals court panel ruled that a lower court was correct in blocking the immigration executive action announced by the Obama administration last fall.

The immigration executive action was expected to “defer” the deportation of as many as 5 million immigrants. First, it lifted the age caps on a previous executive action that protected from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived to the U.S. as minors. Second, it offered deportation protections to certain undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Immigration enforcement exists in the purview of the federal government. However Texas and 25 other states — fueled by conservative outrage over Obama’s so-called “constitutional overreach” — challenged the action in federal court. They argued that the action imposes an illegal burden on the states: Specifically, Texas said it will cost taxpayers because the state will have to issue driver’s licenses and offer other benefits for the immigrants covered under the actions.

Monday two of the three 5th Circuit judges sitting on the panel — Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod — agreed:

“Congress did not intend to make immune from judicial review an agency action that reclassifies millions of illegal aliens in a way that imposes substantial costs on states,” they wrote. They said that the action should have gone through the comment-and-review period of typical regulations and that the Obama administration did not have the authority to grant deportation protections to a whole class of immigrants.

The dissenting judge — Justice Carolyn Dineen King — called it a “breathtaking expansion” of the requirements states would need to meet to sue the federal government over policy issues, while defending the Obama administration’s ability to implement the action.

“The court seriously upped the ante from the district court’s decision that it was reviewing,” said Bo Cooper — former general counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service — on a press call with reporters Tuesday organized by group’s supporting the administration’s policy.

If the Department of Justice acts swiftly, as it has signaled it will, and the Supreme Court does take up the case, it could hear it by late spring with a decision expected by the summer. That timing, still, is ultimately be up to the court.

The White House Tuesday also has stressed the urgency with which it is treating the matter.

“We obviously continue to believe strongly in the legal power of the arguments that we have been making for nearly a year, now, about the importance of giving our law enforcement officials the discretion to implement our immigration laws in a way that focuses on those who pose a genuine threat to our national security or to our communities,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

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