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Supreme Court denies motion to block Trump 'public charge' rule during pandemic

The Supreme Court on Friday denied a request to block the Trump administration's "public charge" rule during the coronavirus health crisis.

A group of state attorneys general had asked the court to issue an injunction against the rule, which links a migrant's eligibility for legal status with the likelihood that he or she will rely on public assistance.

The court had decided earlier this year to allow the rule to go into effect, but the group of state officials, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), had asked the justices to revisit the decision in light of the ongoing pandemic.

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The court did not publish an opinion on its decision not to grant the request, nor did it publish a vote tally for the move.

But their order on Friday did leave open the possibility that the attorneys general could seek relief in the lower courts.

James said that she intends to file for an injunction with a federal district court, which had granted her initial motion before the outbreak.

“The Supreme Court’s order tonight allows us to continue the fight to halt the Public Charge Rule during the current public health crisis, and gives us the opportunity to make our case in a federal court in New York,” James said in a statement. “We will soon file an emergency motion in the Southern District of New York because our country cannot afford to wait. The Public Charge Rule threatens the public’s health, our economy, and all New Yorker — citizens and non-citizens alike. Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow.”

James, who was joined by her counterparts from Connecticut and Vermont and the corporation counsel for New York City, argued in her emergency motion earlier this month that the new administration rule is a threat to public health amid the coronavirus crisis.

"By deterring immigrants from accessing publicly funded healthcare, including programs that would enable immigrants to obtain testing and treatment for COVID-19, the Rule makes it more likely that immigrants will suffer serious illness if infected and spread the virus inadvertently to others—risks that are heightened because immigrants make up a large proportion of the essential workers who continue to interact with the public," they wrote in their brief.

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The Justice Department argued against a new injunction, saying that it's unwarranted since the Trump administration would not consider immigrants' use of public benefits related to the COVID-19 crisis in deciding whether they should be considered public charges.

"Rather than a wholesale suspension, the Executive Branch has instead opted to take more targeted steps to ensure that the Rule is being administered in an appropriate way in light of current conditions," the department wrote in its own Supreme Court filing.

While it's unknown how the justices voted on the emergency motion, the court ruled 5-4 along ideological line in the earlier petitions, with the conservative majority deciding that the administration could implement the rule while a legal challenge plays out in federal court.

The rule allows immigration authorities to consider applicants for legal status a public charge if they receive public assistance like food stamps or Medicare for 12 months in a three-year period.

James and other attorneys general challenging the rule have called it a "wealth test" for immigrants.

Updated: 8:24 p.m.