The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in three important cases on Monday morning, two of which relate to highly controversial Trump administration immigration actions and policies. Here’s what you need to know about the latest cases headed to the High Court.
1. Border Wall funding. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, et al., Petitioners v. Sierra Club, et al.
The Court has decided to hear the case over Trump’s signature project, a wall constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition sued the Trump Administration to stop it from using federal funds for the project.
Despite Trump campaign promises that Mexico would pay for the border wall, his administration instead planned to use $1.4 billion of counterdrug funding to construct U.S.-Mexico barriers in El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona. At the district court and circuit court levels, the government lost badly. Those rulings were halted, however, such that federal funding for the wall was permitted to proceed pending a full appeal.
Many legal experts were highly critical that SCOTUS’s decision to stay the lower court’s ruling against the Trump administration had the effect of allowing construction to proceed, despite the funding being found unlawful.
The border wall case shows the impact of the shadow docket. Every lower court to rule on Trump’s use of funds has held it unlawful; it’s been enjoined since May 2019; but thanks to a #SCOTUS stay, the money’s been transferred. And the case may be moot before it’s finally decided. https://t.co/F8zauhs5Ib
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) October 19, 2020
As U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. explained in his ruling against the administration, what’s on appeal at SCOTUS is not whether construction of a border wall is a good idea; rather, the Court will decide whether Trump and the executive branch of government have the authority to undertake the plan at all, as well as the related issue of whether the Sierra Club has legal standing to challenge the administration’s actions.
The case has potential to raise significant separation of powers issues, the answers to which may depend on the Court’s characterization of the border wall itself. If, as the lower court held, funding for construction was appropriately the decision of Congress, the executive branch will have exceeded its constitutional power. On the other hand, if SCOTUS sides with Trump (and finds the project to fall within the president’s emergency or military authority), its ruling could be a significant win for the Trump administration.
Of course, as some have pointed out, depending on the Court’s timeline, the results of the election could render the dispute moot.
Of course, by the time the border wall case gets argued at SCOTUS the case could be styled “Biden v. Sierra Club” – which is to say it could go away because a new administration has different policies. pic.twitter.com/yVwjCKvaSy
— Michael Li 李之樸 (@mcpli) October 19, 2020
The Sierra Club issued a statement through counsel about SCOTUS’s grant of certiorari in the case, saying that Trump’s use of military funds for border wall construction “has caused lasting harm to the ecosystems and communities of the borderlands, damaged sacred indigenous lands beyond repair, and destroyed wildlife and habitats along the border.”
“Stopping this wasteful and irreversible damage is long overdue,” continued Gloria Smith, managing attorney at the Sierra Club. “We look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court.”
Here’s the Sierra Club’s statement on the Supreme Court’s decision to take up an appeal over the Trump admin’s funding of the border wall (background: https://t.co/sODOuvkrjL) pic.twitter.com/dEBBuY2nf6
— Ellen M. Gilmer (@ellengilmer) October 19, 2020
2. The “Remain in Mexico” policy. Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, et al., Petitioners v. Innovation Law Lab, et al.
SCOTUS will be taking up another case related to the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies. Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab will determine the fate of the administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)” program – better known as the “remain in Mexico policy.” The program disallows refugees and asylum-seekers a right of due process and access to counsel, and requires them must remain in Mexico indefinitely while their asylum applications are processed. The program has been widely criticized by immigration advocates who say it has caused a dangerous humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Ninth Circuit had, in February 2020, issued an injunction against the program, pending a full appeal; the Supreme Court reversed that injunction in a one-page, unsigned order. Now, the Court will address the actual merits of the MPP program.
The only vote that is relatively certain is that of liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who went on record that she’d have sided with the Ninth Circuit and upheld the injunction against the program. Sotomayor has also been intensely critical of Trump’s immigration policies in the past.
Challengers to the program argue that it is not only too harsh, but also that it is unnecessary in light of restrictions currently in place to combat coronavirus.
3. Fourth Amendment Restrictions Against Warrantless Entries. Arthur Gregory Lange, Petitioner v. California
The Court has also decided to answer a question about how far “exigent circumstances” go to allow warrantless searches. Specifically, the Court will take up the case involving a person suspected to have committed a misdemeanor.
The case of Arthur Lange falls into the narrow factual crevice that has prompted the Court to settle the scope of Fourth Amendment protection in this context.
Lange had been driving home in California one night, listening to loud music, and at one point, honking his horn a few times. A police officer followed Lange. Later, that officer said he believed the music and honking were misdemeanor violations of the California Vehicle Code.
The officer followed Lange (without lights or sirens activated). Lange approached his own driveway, and at that time, the officer activated his lights. Lange entered his own driveway, opened his garage door, pulled into the garage, and tried to close the electric garage door. The officer got out of his squad car, stuck his foot under the door to stop it from closing, and entered Lange’s garage. Once in the garage, the officer said he could smell alcohol on Lange’s breath, and ordered him out of the garage for a DUI investigation. Lange argued that the police officer’s entry had been unlawful, because it had not been based on the kind of exigent circumstances necessary to comport with Fourth Amendment requirements.
The officer had proceeded without a warrant; SCOTUS will now answer the question whether the officer’s suspicion that Lange had committed a misdemeanor was enough for him that officer to have entered Lange’s garage.
Under current interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, police must obtain a warrant before entering a home, except in “exigent circumstances.” Hot pursuit of someone suspected of committing a felony satisfies the legal requirements – but courts are split on whether the same is true when the underlying crime is only a misdemeanor.
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
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