·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Supreme Court to Let Texas Enforce Controversial Immigration Enforcement Bill

— March 21, 2024

Although the Supreme Court will allow Texas to begin enforcing provisions of Senate Bill 4, the justices did not rule on the legality of the law. Instead, the panel returned the case to a federal appeals court–which, hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision, has again stayed enforcement of the statute.

The Supreme Court will let Texas enforce a controversial law that delegates certain immigration enforcement-related tasks to state courts and local police departments.

On Tuesday, the court’s conservative majority rejected a request by the Biden administration to prevent the law from taking effect. In earlier hearings, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice characterized Texas Senate Bill 4 as an “unprecedented intrusion into federal immigration enforcement.”

“There is no ambiguity in S.B. 4,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court. “It is flatly inconsistent with federal law in all its applications, and it is therefore preempted on its face.”

As has reported before, Texas Senate Bill 4 makes undocumented entry to the United States a crime under state law—an unprecedented move, and one which has been criticized by the Biden administration for infringing upon federal immigration policy.

The Supreme Court’s Tuesday order will allow the law to take effect. However, the justices did not rule on the legality of S.B. 4—instead, they simply ordered that the case be returned to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, finding that the appeals court had not followed proper procedure when overturning another federal judge’s decision.

US Supreme Court building; image by Mark Thomas, via
US Supreme Court building; image by Mark Thomas, via

“So far as I know, this Court has never reviewed the decision of a court of appeals to enter—or not enter—an administrative stay,” wrote Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

“That puts the case in a very unusual procedural posture,” Barrett said. “I think it is unwise to invite emergency litigation in this court about whether a court of appeals abused its discretion at this preliminary step.”

Barrett said that, if the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals does not issue its own order quickly, then Texas should be permitted to begin enforcement of its immigration law.

“The time may come, in this case or another, when this Court is forced to conclude that an administrative stay has effectively become a stay pending appeal and review it accordingly,” Barrett added. “But at this juncture, that conclusion would be premature.”

Barrett’s more liberal colleagues—including Justice Sonia Sotomayor—dissented, claiming that the Supreme Court’s inaction “invites further chaos and crisis.”

“Although the Court today expresses no view on whether Texas’s law is constitutional, and instead defers to a lower court’s management of its docket, the Court of Appeals abused its discretion by entering an unreasoned and indefinite administrative stay that altered the status quo,” Sotomayor wrote.

The White House has since continued to levy criticism against Senate Bill 4, casting it as yet “another example of Republican officials politicizing the border while blocking real solutions.”

“We fundamentally disagree with the Supreme Court’s order allowing Texas’ harmful and unconstitutional law to go into effect,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a release. “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.”

As of Tuesday night, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had again blocked the law from taking effect, with another hearing on the case scheduled for April 2nd.


Disagreement and confusion on display in hearing over Texas’ new immigration law

SB 4 again put on hold as 5th Circuit Court schedules Wednesday hearing on how to proceed

Supreme Court allows Texas to enforce immigration law

Supreme Court escalates high-stakes border drama between Biden, Texas and Trump

Supreme Court greenlights Texas law allowing state police to arrest migrants

Supreme Court permits Texas police to arrest people who illegally cross the border as the SB 4 legal clash continues

Join the conversation!