Supreme Court

Was the DACA Decision "Deliberately Designed for One Day and Case Only"?

Professor Zach Price on the Chief Justice Roberts' Decision in Dept. of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California


SCOTUSBlog is hosting an online symposium on the Supreme Court's decision invaliding the Trump Administration's attempt to rescind the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy in Dept. of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California

In that symposium, I found the contribution by Professor Zach Price of the University of California at Hastings Law School to be particularly worthwhile. His piece begins:

In its decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California barring repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the Supreme Court reached an attractive result through flawed legal reasoning. The decision may carry implications that progressives will regret, but it is hard to tell because Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion seems deliberately designed for one day and case only.

Later on, Professor Price writes:

When one dives into the details, the majority's reasoning becomes so narrow and self-contradictory as to preclude confident generalization beyond the example at hand. The court expressly declined to consider DACA's legality—yet faulted the secretary for failing to consider options she believed were unlawful. It held that the secretary was bound by the attorney general's legal conclusions—yet faulted her for failing to independently parse the reasoning in a court decision. It emphasized the importance of considering reliance interests—yet never addressed the troubling incentives that protecting reliance could create for the executive. Overall, the court repeatedly emphasized the particular features of the government's shambolic rescission process and parsed the particular words of DHS' explanation, seemingly advertising the decision's narrow, fact-specific character.

Given all this muddled narrowness, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the court, whether self-consciously or not, took advantage of the Trump administration's characteristically erratic decision-making process to benefit sympathetic immigrants and freeze in place a policy the court knows to be both quite popular and quite polarizing. In effect, it reached a result that Congress should have reached on its own—but in a manner that spares Congress any need to strike compromises and disappoint some constituents to please others.

The whole thing is worth a read. The full symposium is here.

My own prior analysis of the decision is here.


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  1. freeze in place a policy the court knows to be both quite popular and quite polarizing

    There’s nothing polarizing about the Dreamers. These are people even numerous immigration restrictionists think should be allowed to stay in the country. They are unifying, not polarizing.

    You literally have to be both a hard-core racist bigot AND a hard-core sadist who believes in punishing children for their parents’ sins to want to kick out Dreamers. There’s nothing polarizing at all about the Court’s action on a policy level. The only thing that is polarizing is the legal issues.

    1. No, there are numerous immigration restrictionists who think it should be made on a case by case basis. Not a blanket, “let everyone who came at age 16, is now 37, and has a menial job and criminal record” stay.

      1. I could live with the menial job, it’s the 70% on welfare that bother me.

  2. I lived in Mexico for three years. 14 year olds often have quit school and are working.
    Compromise. If someone came over the border at 15 years age, then they get green cards. Can’t vote, but can do everything else. They stay as green card holders their whole life. If they want to become citizens, then they have to join the military for one enlistment period.
    Those coming in under 15 get a green card and get to try to become US citizen just like any legal immigrants, following the usual process. No vote until becoming a citizen.
    You’d be surprised how little most undocumented immigrants have hopes of choosing between Trump and Biden. They want the security to buy a house and hold a job.
    Of course, the Democrats have hopes of a monolithic bloc voting for them forever, which is why they are holding out for the whole enchilada, so to speak. Meanwhile they get to blame Republicans for everything.

  3. For one president only, more likely.

    1. Hopefully the American people will choose more wisely in the future, that’s true.

      1. So you’re stating that the courts have the right to make unprincipled exceptions for a president that the people “wrongly” chose?

  4. Why give them citizenship? If the Dems win the presidency and control of both houses of congress, they can pass a federal statute giving voting rights to all residents, regardless of immigration status. Then they could minimize ICE’s budget and open our southern borders. Texas and a few other red states would turn blue immediately. They could lock in control of the presidency and of congress for a generation or two and could start defunding conservative groups via the IRS and FEC. They could amend 26 USC 501(c) and add a slew of additional requirements that would preclude conservative groups from qualifying.

    1. They could also just make it illegal to be a conservative. And I hope Roberts is the first victim of the policies he champions.

  5. Judges can always just do whatever they want. It is a super legislature.

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