By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
While the U.S. Congress regularly receives much flak for its inactivity and general dysfunction, it is often easy to disregard the Supreme Court’s real and impactful influence on the legislature’s regular stagnancy. Last Monday, through its declination of president Trump’s challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Supreme Court effectively kicked the proverbial can down the road with regard to immigration policy as DACA’s March 5 expiration date – albeit relatively ineffectual – encroaches.
After a lengthy and monotonous series of January budgeting debates, the Congress failed to provide any infrastructural guidelines or clarity pertaining to U.S. immigration policy. While Democrats tried to use DACA protection as a hard line spending demand during these debates, their ultimate acquiescence to a Republican spending deal failed to protect Dreamers. Since the conclusion of the budget debates, neither the House nor the Senate have prioritized meaningful immigration legislation, and dialogues pertaining to the issue have remained sparse. But analyzing the mechanisms of the court systems in conjunction with the actions of the president provides a unique and productive illustration of the intricacies of a tripartite governmental system. Such analyses also introduce a series of potential consequences for congressional productivity and the eventual status of Dreamers.
After President Trump announced the winding down of the DACA program in September 2017, a California-based U.S. District Court judge, William Alsup, ordered Trump’s administration to continue accepting DACA application renewals. Traditionally, if a party (the appellant) wishes to challenge the ruling of a district court, it must appeal its case to the Circuit Court of Appeals. In this particular scenario, if Trump took issue with Alsup’s ruling, he would have to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But unfortunately for the president, the Ninth Circuit is a consistently liberal court. With this reality in mind, Trump attempted to bypass the ruling of the Ninth Circuit and appeal the Alsup ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the Court had agreed to hear Trump’s direct appeal, it is likely that its ruling may have expedited Congressional immigration debates and outlined the eventual permanent status of America’s nearly one million Dreamers through constitutional application. But through its rejection of Trump’s challenge, the Court has temporarily ensured the continuation of DACA, effectively lowering an already abysmal congressional sense of urgency.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court’s rejection has in no way considered the merits of DACA or President Trump’s discontinuation of the program; it has merely determined that the president was not justified in his direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
The next logistical step in this process, then, concerns the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. The time required for the Ninth Circuit to accurately hear and rule on this decision is of particular import to both Congress and Dreamers. Because the Ninth Circuit will most likely rule in favor of DACA recipients, Trump is likely to then appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Only after the Supreme Court has made its ultimate decision on the merits of this case will Congress have any motivation to solidify an immigration infrastructure plan. The time required for both the Ninth Circuit and U.S. Supreme Courts to hear and rule on these decisions will be relatively expansive. Throughout this period, it is unlikely that Congress will do anything to permanently impact the legal status of DACA recipients. Rather, the legislature will likely put off a permanent solution until it has a constitutional mandate to author one. Throughout this lengthy process, the status of Dreamers will remain in limbo.
While Trump’s defeat via Supreme Court rejection may temporarily protect Dreamers, its implications also further delay a permanent solution for recipients. It is of paramount importance that Congress moves on this issue before allowing a lengthy legal process to guide its decision-making; but because this is likely not going to happen, the status of Dreamers will remain uncomfortably and precariously unknown.