WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case Monday that could not only decide the fate of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, but will also amplify two already hot-button political issues at the height of the presidential campaign season.
Arguments in the challenge to Obama’s executive actions protecting as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation will put a spotlight on the issue, which GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have made a central part of their campaign messaging.
It is also the latest high-profile case that could deadlock the nation’s highest court in a 4-4 split as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to block the confirmation of federal Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to fill the court’s vacancy.
Texas and 25 other states challenged the executive orders, which grant deportation relief and work eligibility to some parents of citizens and legal residents, as well as relief to those who were illegally brought into the country as young children.
A lower federal court sided with the challengers and barred the implementation of the orders nationwide.
“Our position from the beginning has been very clear: President Obama is not a king,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which submitted a brief urging the court to uphold the lower ruling.
Regardless of the administration’s argument that the president only acted in response to Congress’ inaction on immigration reform, “impatient presidents don’t get to change the law,” Sekulow said.
Brianne J. Gorod, chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center — which supports upholding the president’s executive orders — noted that the court has already ruled that the executive branch has broad authority to implement immigration policy in a 2012 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts — both appointed by Republicans.
If either takes a different view now, it could be perceived as politically, — and not constitutionally — motivated, Gorod said.
“I believe (they) will find, as all the justices should, that these executive actions are entirely consistent with Supreme Court precedent,” Gorod said.
In a brief urging the court to strike down the executive orders, McConnell and other Republican lawmakers called the executive actions “an explicit effort to circumvent the legislative process.”
“Congress has never given the Executive unchecked discretion to rewrite federal immigration policy or to fashion its own immigration code,” the GOP lawmakers’ brief states.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest last week said the White House was confident that both their legal argument that the orders were within Obama’s authority, and the political case that they are good for the nation and its economy, would win the day.
“We believe we have a strong case that is rooted in the way that previous presidents, including Republican presidents, have used their executive action to implement immigration policy,” said Earnest, noting that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush granted relief to undocumented immigrants through executive orders.
“And that’s an argument I suspect we’ll have multiple opportunities to make not just before the Supreme Court, but potentially over the course of the election as we’re debating all these policies,” Earnest said.
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