Supreme Court denies Biden admin request to block Texas law allowing local police and courts to enforce immigration laws

 March 20, 2024

The Biden administration, along with two private organizations and El Paso County, sued the state of Texas to block the implementation of a new law, Senate Bill 4, that criminalized illegal entry into the state, authorized local police to arrest suspected illegal migrants, and empowered state judges to deport those detained illegal migrants.

A district court sided with Biden and enjoined the law, but that injunction was blocked by the circuit court, which prompted an appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 on Tuesday that the law can go into effect while the litigation remains pending, NBC News reported.

The administration argued that only the federal government has the authority to enforce border security and immigration laws, but Texas counterargued that Biden has abdicated that duty through his lax enforcement policies and further cited a constitutional provision allowing states to enforce their borders during a foreign "invasion."

Injunction lifted

SCOTUSblog reported that Texas' SB4 was set to go into effect on March 5 but was blocked with a preliminary injunction by a federal district judge who ruled in late February that the new law was likely unconstitutional and violated prior precedents establishing the federal government's sovereignty over all matters relating to the enforcement of border security and immigration laws.

The Fifth Circuit, on appeal from Texas, issued an administrative stay to block the injunction and set April 3 for a hearing on the administration's request to allow the injunction to remain in place pending resolution of the dispute on the merits.

Meanwhile, the administration also appealed to the Supreme Court to lift the Fifth Circuit's stay on the injunction, and while Justice Samuel Alito imposed a temporary administrative stay of his own to buy time for the court to consider the matter, the high court's stay of the circuit court's stay of the district court's injunction was lifted on Tuesday, which essentially allowed the Texas law to go into effect, if only temporarily while the litigation proceeds on the merits.

Unresolved dispute

The court's majority did not explain its reasoning for Tuesday's decision, but a concurring opinion from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, noted that the underlying dispute on the merits was far from being resolved at the circuit court level and lamented the increasing frequency with which administrative stays were being used as well as the Supreme Court's intervention in the case at such an early stage in the proceedings.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, issued a dissent and argued at length that the Texas law should remain blocked by an injunction as she lambasted her conservative-leaning colleagues on the bench for granting "a greenlight to a law that will upend the longstanding federal-state balance of power and sow chaos, when the only court to consider the law concluded that it is likely unconstitutional."

Justice Elena Kagen also authored a brief dissent in which she wrote, "My views of the merits are, as always in this posture, preliminary. But the subject of immigration generally, and the entry and removal of noncitizens particularly, are matters long thought the special province of the Federal Government. Given that established understanding, I would not allow Texas Senate Bill 4 to go into effect."

"Positive development"

In reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott posted on X, "BREAKING: In a 6-3 decision SCOTUS allows Texas to begin enforcing SB4 that allows the arrest of illegal immigrants. We still have to have hearings in the 5th circuit federal court of appeals. But this is clearly a positive development."

Conversely, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement, "We fundamentally disagree with the Supreme Court’s order allowing Texas’ harmful and unconstitutional law to go into effect. S.B. 4 will not only make communities in Texas less safe, it will also burden law enforcement, and sow chaos and confusion at our southern border."

"S.B. 4 is just another example of Republican officials politicizing the border while blocking real solutions," she added while once again calling upon Congress to pass border security and immigration reform proposals that have been thoroughly rejected by the GOP as inadequate and exacerbating the problems at hand.

Temporary hold

Unfortunately for Texas, the state's window of opportunity to begin enforcing SB4 was short-lived, as Breitbart reported that the Fifth Circuit almost immediately placed the law on temporary hold once again while it further expedited the proceedings.

According to NBC News, while the circuit court had initially fast-tracked the case and scheduled a hearing for April 3 on both the merits and the administration's request for an injunction pending resolution, that hearing was moved up to Wednesday, with a decision likely to follow shortly thereafter, which will almost certainly prompt more appeals for Supreme Court intervention in the matter.

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