Roberts, who has emerged in recent years as a semi-regular swing justice on the court, wrote the majority opinion concluding that the decision to phase-out the program was unlawful because it did not consider all the options to rein in the program and failed to account for the interests of those who relied on it.
Roberts said that the Trump official who ordered the wind down in 2017, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, erred by failing to consider whether it was possible to eliminate the work permits issued to DACA recipients without ending the limited protection they enjoy from deportation. He also said she didn’t give adequate thought to how important the program was to those with DACA status.
“Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients,” Roberts wrote. “That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh all dissented from the decision and said they would have allowed the administration’s phase-out of DACA to proceed.
Prior to Thursday’s ruling, Trump had repeatedly said he’d like to reach a deal with Congress to give legal status to the Dreamers. He has claimed those talks would’ve succeeded two years ago if initial court rulings hadn’t blocked his effort to shut down DACA.
However, Democrats have argued Trump blew up the negotiations by deferring to immigration hardliners seeking to implement a radical overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.
The cases decided by the high court were launched by blue states and immigrant rights’ advocates after Trump launched his bid to eliminate the program in 2017. The central issue in the suits was not the legality of the DACA program President Barack Obama announced in 2012, but whether Trump’s move to begin winding it down complied with legal requirements.
In a series of rulings in 2018, an ideologically-diverse set of district court judges backed arguments that the Trump administration’s explanation for phasing out DACA was legally insufficient.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the program should be wound down because it was at risk of being abruptly ended by litigation. No suit seeking to shut it down was pending at the time of the decision, but some red-state attorneys general were threatening to seek such an injunction from a judge in Texas who issued a ruling in 2015 blocking Obama’s expansion of the program.
Thursday’s ruling was the second major defeat for the Trump administration at the Supreme Court this week. On Monday, the justices issued an unexpected 6-3 decision that a more than half-century old federal civil rights law forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Trump administration had urged the court to reach the opposite result.