Supreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration

The Supreme Court has repeatedly come to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’s aid over the border, bolstering his efforts to build a wall and turn aside migrants seeking asylum on the southern border.

The latest example came Wednesday night, when the court issued an unsigned order allowing the administration’s stringent new asylum policy to remain in place while battles over its legality continue.

The new rule is essentially a blanket rejection of asylum-seekers who pass through Mexico before arriving at the southern border, denying entrance to almost all Central American migrants, who make up the majority of the recent surge in border-crossers.

The order included a singeing dissent from two of the court’s liberal justices, who argued it was reflective of a broader shift in how the court has handled such questions in the Trump era.

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It also came a little over a month after the court backed up Trump’s decision to divert $2.5 billion in military funds to build his border wall — a focal point of his first presidential campaign that is vitally important to the president as he embarks on his reelection bid.

The two decisions underscore how the Supreme Court, which includes two justices nominated by Trump and confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate, has been a key part of Trump’s efforts to reshape the nation’s immigration laws to limit both illegal and legal immigration.

Both justices, Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchSupreme Court denies Trump request to immediately resume federal executions House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Justices appear cautious of expanding gun rights in NY case MORE and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Justices grapple with multibillion-dollar ObamaCare case Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE, endured intense confirmation hearings and were only narrowly confirmed amid fierce opposition from Democrats who worried that they would be partial toward Trump's agenda.

Those appointments have been particularly controversial because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats seek leverage for trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play House Democrats to vote on flavored e-cigarettes ban next year MORE’s (R-Ky.) move to block former President Obama from appointing the more liberal Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandAppeals court clears way for Congress to seek Trump financial records Divisive docket to test Supreme Court ahead of 2020 Majority disapprove of Trump Supreme Court nominations, says poll MORE to the seat now held by Gorsuch.

The appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have shifted the court decidedly in favor of conservatives, but the relationship between the courts and the administration has changed as well.

Trump, Vice President Pence and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrInspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen asks judge to reduce sentence MORE have each at various points ripped lower courts for their use of nationwide injunctions to stall administration policies, and the president has accused his opponents of court-shopping in search of favorable rulings.

But the administration has itself pursued the unconventional strategy of seeking relief from the Supreme Court to allow its immigration agenda to go ahead unimpeded.

“It is becoming more and more clear that this Supreme Court is acquiescing to Trump’s political requests rather than protecting its founding principles of independence as a third branch of government, governed by the rule of law, and impartial to the whims of politics,” Ur Jaddou, former chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said in a statement after Wednesday’s order.

“If the Court’s own justices are questioning the impartiality of decisions by this Court, how is the American public supposed to trust that the next big immigration decision by this Court will be one that is made free of politics and pressure from this administration?” she added. 

While former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama filed eight stay applications to override lower courts over a combined 16 years, Trump has filed 21 in 2 ½ years, Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, told The Hill.

Advocates have succeeded in getting lower courts to temporarily block many of the administration's immigration initiatives, but Solicitor General Noel Francisco has used stay applications to persuade the Supreme Court to override those blocks.

Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorPress: Pelosi strikes back, hatred is a sin Justices appear cautious of expanding gun rights in NY case Divided Supreme Court leans toward allowing Trump to end DACA MORE hammered the court for acquiescing to the administration’s strategy of requesting stays in her dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court halts subpoena to Deutsche Bank for Trump records Justices appear cautious of expanding gun rights in NY case Ginsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle MORE.

“Granting a stay pending appeal should be an ‘extraordinary’ act. Unfortunately, it appears the Government has treated this exceptional mechanism as a new normal. Historically, the Government has made this kind of request rarely; now it does so reflexively,” she wrote.

“Not long ago, the Court resisted the shortcut the Government now invites. I regret that my colleagues have not exercised the same restraint here. I respectfully dissent,” she added.

The administration’s increasing reliance on the Supreme Court to enact its immigration agenda comes as lower courts have blocked cornerstone actions, such as the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said that “the rising number of national injunctions being imposed by trial courts” explains the administration’s strategy.

“The Trump administration has very good reason to go to the Supreme Court to seek intervention because of these national injunctions,” he told The Hill.

The decisions on asylum and the border wall are just a few of the immigration rules in which the Supreme Court will likely play a role during Trump’s presidency.

For example, the court is set to take up the debate over DACA, which gives legal status to thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, this fall.

Other Trump immigration policies, such as denying citizenship to those who rely on public benefits or limiting asylum applications to those who come to the country via ports of entry, are also being challenged in lower courts.

The administration could ask the Supreme Court to lift blocks on any of those, forcing the court’s hand again.

“This is going to be a significant period for the Supreme Court and immigration law,” Turley told The Hill.

Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli defended the administration’s requests to the Supreme Court amid legal challenges at an Axios event Thursday. He dismissed the flood of lawsuits brought in response to immigration policies, chalking it up to the state of politics.

“Being sued isn’t a measure of whether or not what we’re doing is legal or appropriate policy,” he said. “It’s become a tactic of policy to bring suits. Look, I was an attorney general for Virginia. I was the first one to sue on ObamaCare and the first one to have it held unconstitutional.”

“But policy rolls on. We have these debates, and partly they’re carried out in courts, which is OK. It’s important that everything that be done be legal. Where my frustration and my pessimism rolls in is when I see rather nakedly political decisions from the bench,” he added.