The program could still be abolished in the future if the proper procedure is followed, the court acknowledged.
There are an estimated 800,000 individuals eligible under the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). They are a subset of about 4 million “Dreamers,” many of whom failed to apply for relief under DACA, but who could conceivably qualify under an amnesty were one to be granted.
The splintered 5-4 ruling in the case cited as Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California was handed down June 18. The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, a member of the court’s conservative bloc, who was joined in the majority by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
“The dispute before the Court is not whether [the U.S. Department of Homeland Security] may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so,” Roberts wrote.
“The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which provides that the actions of federal agencies are subject to review by the courts, requires agencies to engage in what the Supreme Court previously called ‘reasoned decisionmaking,’ and that those reasons may be evaluated by the courts,” he wrote.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. … We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
DHS failed to do so and therefore violated the APA, the court found.
“We conclude that the acting secretary did violate the [Administrative Procedure Act],” and that the decision to rescind DACA therefore “must be vacated,” Roberts wrote.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh concurred with the majority opinion in parts but dissented with respect to other parts.
“Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” Thomas wrote.
Various federal courts blocked the Trump administration from terminating DACA and ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to keep taking applications from DACA recipients. In oral arguments Nov. 12, the administration urged the court to strike down DACA as unconstitutional because it was never authorized by Congress.
Republicans have long called DACA a brazen power grab, a usurpation of Congress’s constitutionally prescribed role in making laws. Democrats reply that it was the right thing to do.
It was the second major defeat at the high court for the Trump administration this week. The other was the court’s controversial 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which held that employees can’t be fired from their jobs because of sexual orientation or gender identity.