District court dismisses suit against President Obama's immigration initiatives

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Yesterday a federal district court in the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio against President Obama's executive actions on immigration. Whereas another district court stretched to opine on the lawfulness of the Administration's policy, Judge Beryl Howell demurred, declining to find the case justiciable. Specifically, Judge Howell found that Sheriff Arpaio could not demonstrate that he had standing to bring suit against the Administration's policies, concluding that whatever the effect of federal immigration policy on local law enforcement, Sheriff Arpaio could not show that he was injured by the new policies or that an injunction against the new policy would redress his injuries.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction of Judge Howell's opinion:

The plaintiff, the elected Sheriff of Maricopa County, brings suit against the President of the United States, and other Federal officials, alleging that certain immigration policies announced by the President in a nationwide address on November 20, 2014 are unconstitutional, otherwise illegal, and should be stopped from going into effect. See Pl.'s Mot. Prelim. Inj. ("Pl.'s Mot."), ECF No. 7. The plaintiff's suit raises important questions regarding the nation's immigration policies, which affect the lives of millions of individuals and their families. The wisdom and legality of these policies deserve careful and reasoned consideration. As the Supreme Court recently explained: "[T]he sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the [Nation] meeting its responsibility to base its law on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse." Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2510 (2012).

The key question in this case, however, concerns the appropriate forum for where this national conversation should occur. The doctrine of standing, in both its constitutional and prudential formulations, concerns itself with "'the proper-and properly limited-role of the courts in a democratic society.'" Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 162 (1997) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975)). Standing "ensures that [courts] act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives." Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652, 2659 (2013).

The refusal to adjudicate a claim should not be confused with abdicating the responsibility of judicial review. "Proper regard for the complex nature of our constitutional structure requires neither that the Judicial Branch shrink from a confrontation with the other two coequal branches of the Federal Government, nor that it hospitably accept for adjudication claims of constitutional violation by other branches of government where the claimant has not suffered cognizable injury." Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464, 474 (1982). A court must refrain "'from passing upon the constitutionality of an act [of the representative branches], unless obliged to do so in the proper performance of our judicial function, when the question is raised by a party whose interests entitle him to raise it.'" Id. (quoting Blair v. United States, 250 U.S. 273, 279 (1919)) (alteration in original). Ultimately, "[i]t is the role of courts to provide relief to claimants . . . who have suffered, or will imminently suffer, actual harm; it is not the role of courts, but that of the political branches, to shape the institutions of government in such fashion as to comply with the laws and the Constitution." Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996).

Concerns over the judicial role are heightened when the issue before the court involves, as here, enforcement of the immigration laws. This subject raises the stakes of, among other
factors, "immediate human concerns" and "policy choices that bear on this Nation's international relations." Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. at 2499. "[O]ur Constitution places such sensitive immigration and economic judgments squarely in the hands of the Political Branches, not the courts." Fogo de Chao (Holdings) Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 769 F.3d 1127, 1151 n.10 (D.C. Cir. 2014); see also United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858, 864 (1982) ("The power to regulate immigration-an attribute of sovereignty essential to the preservation of any nation-has been entrusted by the Constitution to the political branches of the Federal Government.").

The role of the Judiciary is to resolve cases and controversies properly brought by parties with a concrete and particularized injury- not to engage in policymaking better left to the political branches. The plaintiff's case raises important questions regarding the impact of illegal immigration on this Nation, but the questions amount to generalized grievances which are not proper for the Judiciary to address. For the reasons explained in more detail below, the plaintiff lacks standing to bring this challenge to the constitutionality and legality of the immigration policies at issue.