On Tuesday, April 7th in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled against a request by the Obama administration to lift the injunction he placed on it regarding immigration reform. The ruling comes as a precursor to an April 17th hearing in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Justice Department will plead their case regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s November, 2014 executive order that could potentially shield up to 4 million people from deportation. Hanen placed the injunction into effect on February 16th, in response to a lawsuit filed by 26 states which believe that the executive action is a constitutional overreach. Judge Hanen reaffirmed his original decision, writing that “There is no pressing, emergent need for this program, If there had been such a need,” (the Department of Homeland Security) “could have implemented the program at any time in the last five or ten years.” Obviously disappointed in the ruling, the Obama administration issued a sharp response, claiming that the judge is blocking “common-sense policies,” and vowed to continue the fight during the appeal hearing.
In addition to declining to lift the injunction, Judge Hanen also issued a separate ruling on the case Tuesday which allows the plaintiff states to undergo discovery on claims that the administration began to implement certain aspects of the immigration reform shortly after the November announcement, despite claiming to the court that these provisions wouldn’t begin until February 18th. This complaint stems from the administration continuing to lay the groundwork for 108,000 3-year reprieves based on a section of the law that the administration believed was not being challenged as part of the lawsuit. Calling the premature implementation an accident, Obama said he thought that these actions were guided by an earlier 2012 protocol and apologized for the error. Although he called the administration’s actions “misleading,” and threatened to sanction Justice Department attorneys over the incident, Judge Hanen ultimately decided against it in order to keep the focus on the main issue. Hanen wrote in the ruling, “The parties’ arguments should be decided on their relative merits according to the law, not clouded by outside allegations that may or may not bear on the ultimate issues in this lawsuit.”
Tuesday’s actions set the stage for the critical April 17th appeal hearing. In the discovery ruling, Judge Hanen ordered an April 21st deadline for the administration to submit information and documentation regarding the premature rollout. It will be curious as to how or if the specter of these documents will affect the appeal or not. Obama spokesperson, Joshua Ernest, remains confident in light of the recent setbacks, saying that members of the administration “continue to have very strong confidence in the legal strength” of their argument. Ernest’s statements may be slightly overconfident, however; judging by a U.S. News and World Report Debate Club panel of 4 prominent experts who were asked about the legality of the executive action following the November announcement. The results came back mixed: 1-yes, 2-no’s and 1-maybe. Events in the next few weeks may continue to clarify the constitutionality of the executive order, but the debate will likely continue until a legislative solution is met.
New York Daily News – Bloomberg
US News & World Report/AP – Juan A. Lozano
US News & World Report – Debate Club
Wall Street Journal –Nathan Koppel