It was early Monday morning in Los Angeles and all along the West Coast of the United States, people were just waking up. Cars were jamming the freeways, lines were forming at coffee shops and TVs were tuned to the morning news. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the five men and three women who currently sit on the U.S. Supreme Court were hearing oral arguments in what is likely to be a seminal case involving immigration policy and more broadly, the president’s executive authority. The case seeks to resolve the controversy around the immigration initiatives President Obama announced in November 2014. For many who anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision, a resolution as to whether the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives may proceed is a life-changing matter.
United States v. Texas traveled to the Supreme Court on a politically charged highway along which advocates and opponents threw many punches. The road was lengthy, and as the case made its way to the Supreme Court, many speculated as to its fate. Significantly, this past February, the Court lost Justice Antonin Scalia. As one of the most conservative justices on the court, his passing could have an impact on the result of the case.
I had the privilege of sitting in the courtroom and listened first-hand as Solicitor General of the United States Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., representing the Obama Administration, and Scott A. Keller, Solicitor General of Texas, delivered their arguments. Certain intervenors were permitted to make statements, including Tom Saenz at MALDEF, who forcefully represented the voices of three undocumented mothers, but the crux of the case was presented and argued by the parties’ respective attorneys.
Here are my takeaways:
The eight justices were very much attuned to the issues presented and keenly aware that the ramifications of this decision reach far beyond immigration. Chief Justice John Roberts immediately directed Solicitor General Verrilli to address the question of standing, and much of the argument focused on that threshold question of whether the states can even bring this case in federal court.
Justice Elena Kagan pushed Texas Solicitor General Keller to break down the real issue the states have with deferred action: during the course of the argument it became increasingly clear that while Texas has alleged a serious financial impact would result from the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented people, its beef is actually with the granting of work authorization to deferred action recipients.
But, the problem lies in the interpretation of “lawful presence” versus “legal status.” Importantly, Texas conceded that the government in fact has the authority to grant deferred action. This is pivotal: though the states may not agree with the administration’s policy, if they concede that it has this authority, what exactly is their complaint?
At one point, Texas argued that the administration could not do what it has the authority to do without “deep economic significance.” In response, Justice Sonya Sotomayor quickly pointed out that the mere presence of 11 million undocumented individuals in our communities has “deep economic significance,” whether we like it or not.
Ultimately, I think the fundamental essence of the case was brought to light when Justice Stephen Breyer stated, “we can’t let you sue because you the taxpayer will have to pay more money. If we do, taxpayers all over the country will be suing in all kinds of cases, many of which involve nothing more than political disagreements of all kinds.” Yes, that’s precisely the type of disagreement Texas has with this administration – one that is purely political.
In my opinion, the Obama Administration acted within its authority to temporarily remedy the inaction of the legislative branch. If DAPA and expanded DACA are allowed to go forward, millions of individuals living in the shadows of our communities will be permitted to come forth and register with the government and have their already “significant economic impact” counted.
As it ended, the attorneys exited the front doors of the courthouse and the enormous crowd that had gathered began chanting and applauding. It was an emotional moment. The case – and the future of millions – is now in the hands of the Court.
I am humbled and honored to have witnessed this historic event. Today, I, along with millions of others, await the decision of the Court, expected in June, and trust the justices to think critically as they make their decision, just as they did in their questioning yesterday.
Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President
To learn more about the oral arguments in United States v. Texas, an archived webcast is available featuring three experts: Greg Chen of AILA, Melissa Crow of the American Immigration Council, and Professor Hiroshi Motomura of UCLA.