“the Supreme Court handed down a brief, 5-4 decision that effectively places Drew Tipton, a Trump-appointed federal trial judge in Texas, in charge of many of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) decisions about which immigrants to target.
The decision was largely along party lines, except that Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court’s three Democratic appointees.
The decision in United States v. Texas is temporary, but the upshot of this decision is that Tipton will effectively wield much of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s authority over how ICE officers prioritize their time for as much as an entire year — and that’s assuming that the Biden administration ultimately prevails when the Court reconsiders this case next winter.
At issue in this case is a perfectly standard decision Mayorkas made last September. Federal law provides that the secretary of homeland security “shall be responsible” for “establishing national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.” Pursuant to this authority, Mayorkas issued a memo to ICE’s acting director, informing him that the agency should prioritize enforcement efforts against undocumented or otherwise removable immigrants who “pose a threat to national security, public safety, and border security and thus threaten America’s well-being.”
Then-secretaries of homeland security issued similar memos setting enforcement priorities in 2000, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2017.
Not long after Mayorkas handed down his memo, however, the Republican attorneys general of Texas and Louisiana went to Tipton, a Trump judge with a history of handing down legally dubious decisions halting Biden administration immigration policies, asking Tipton to invalidate Mayorkas’s memo. Tipton obliged, and an especially conservative panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit allowed Tipton’s order to remain in effect.
DOJ asked the Supreme Court to stay Tipton’s decision, temporarily restoring an elected administration’s control over federal law enforcement while this case proceeds. But the Court just refused. And it did so without explanation.”
“Deeply ingrained in the Constitution genius are checks and balances. The president can veto legislation; Congress can override a veto. The Courts can invalidate an act of Congress or the president. And the executive and legislative branches enjoy checks against the judiciary.
The Constitution called for the establishment of a Supreme Court and lower federal courts. It left it to Congress and the president to decide just what shape the judiciary would take. They did so in the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created district courts, circuit (or appellate) courts, and a six-member Supreme Court. Over the years, Congress, with the president’s approval, has increased and decreased the number of justices on the Supreme Court, created and changed the jurisdiction of district and circuit courts, and adjusted the number of federal judges.
By now, it’s well-known that Congress can change the size, and thus the composition, of the Supreme Court by simple legislation. Court-packing, as it’s been called since 1937, when President Franklin Roosevelt unsuccessfully attempted to circumvent a hostile court by expanding its membership, is a deeply controversial practice.
Critically, but less widely understood, the Constitution also grants Congress the power to strip the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over specific matters. Article III, Section 2 reads: “In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”
At least one founder was clear about the intent of Section 2. Hamilton wrote, “From this review of the particular powers of the federal judiciary, as marked out in the Constitution, it appears that they are all conformable to the principles which ought to have governed the structure of that department, and which were necessary to the perfection of the system. If some partial inconveniences should appear to be connected with the incorporation of any of them into the plan, it ought to be recollected that the national legislature will have ample authority to make such exceptions, and to prescribe such regulations as will be calculated to obviate or remove these inconveniences.”
Defenders of judicial review appropriately point to Federalist 78 as evidence that Hamilton believed the Constitution contained an implicit power of judicial review. But he also believed that Congress could adjust the court’s jurisdiction.
In practice, so few instances exist of jurisdictional stripping that its meaning and scope are open to debate. But it has happened. In the late 1860s, federal authorities jailed William McCardle, a newspaper editor, under provisions of the 1867 Military Reconstruction Act. McCardle sued for his freedom, citing the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867. Congress denied the justices jurisdiction in the matter, and the court conceded that it was powerless to act.
Writing several decades later, Justice Felix Frankfurter, an FDR appointee, noted that “Congress need not give this Court any appellate power; it may withdraw appellate jurisdiction once conferred and it may do so even while a case is sub judice.” Chief Justice Warren Burger, whom President Richard Nixon placed on the bench, agreed, writing that Congress could pass simple legislation “limiting or prohibiting judicial review of its directives.”
No less than the executive and legislative branches, the judiciary — particularly, the Supreme Court — is limited in just how much power it can exert. But only if Congress and the president exercise their right to check its power.”
“A world in which a highly partisan and increasingly unpopular Supreme Court found its jurisdiction routinely boxed out by Congress is hardly a recipe for political stability. With every change of control, a new Congress and president could overturn precedent and lock the court out of its intended role as a constitutional arbiter. Moreover, there would likely be widespread confusion over just what might happen, were Congress to strip the court of its jurisdiction over, say, the state legislative doctrine. Would it then be left to lower courts to adjudicate cases? And what if they disagreed?
Conversely, today’s court majority claims largely unchecked power.
John Marshall, the chief justice who first asserted the power of judicial review, was “notably cautious in dealing with cases that might excite Republican or popular sensibilities,” noted historian Charles Sellers. He sought consensus among the associate justices, Federalists and Republicans alike, operated with “restraint” (Sellers) and led with “lax, lounging manners” (Thomas Jefferson) rather than cutting partisanship. He did so because he understood that the court was a new institution, and were it to lose popular support, the powers it claimed for itself would become either unenforceable, or subject to congressional restraint.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility and prerogative of the executive and legislative branches to encourage greater restraint and humility on the part of the judiciary.
Judicial review is well-rooted in American political tradition. But so are checks and balances. To save the Supreme Court from itself, Congress might first have to shrink it.”
“Today’s liberal critics of judicial review make two principal claims, both of which Learned Hand made too. First, they say that judicial review is repugnant to democracy. To allow unelected judges to void the actions of democratically elected legislators, presidents, or governors, the argument goes, is to allow the judiciary to subvert the will of the majority. Second, these critics say, judicial review “wasn’t enumerated in the Constitution and isn’t inherent in the court as an institution,” as Bouie put it. Thus, the act of abolishing judicial review does not raise any constitutional concerns.
These liberal critics are right on the first count and wrong on the second. The judiciary is undoubtedly the least democratic branch of government. But that is by design. The role of the federal courts, as James Madison once put it, is to stand as “an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive.” Lawmakers and presidents sometimes assume powers that they should not, and popular majorities sometimes support those power grabs. The judiciary is meant to stand in the way even if judicial review thwarts the will of such majorities. Indeed, the judiciary is meant to act as a check against the tyranny of such majorities.
What is more, contra Bouie, this authority is firmly located in the Constitution and fully inherent in the judicial branch. According to Article III, Section 1, “the judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” The Framers and ratifiers of the Constitution understood the phrase “the judicial power” to include the power of federal judges to nullify legislative and executive acts that violate the Constitution, which is the power that we call judicial review.”
“An examination of American legal history reveals the solid constitutional foundations of judicial review. Take the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where the document was drafted. Speaking on July 21, Luther Martin gave voice to the consensus view. “As to the constitutionality of laws,” Martin observed to his fellow delegates, “that point will come before the judges in their proper official character. In this character they will have a negative on the laws.” George Mason made the same point on the same day. Under the Constitution, he said, judges “could declare an unconstitutional law void.” Nobody at the convention disagreed with any of that.
This same understanding of “the judicial power” is also evident in the Framers’ debates about a proposal that did not make it into the final document. James Madison was foremost among those at the convention who thought that Congress should have the constitutional power to veto state laws. Madison had watched as various states, under the Articles of Confederation, erected tariffs and other costly impediments to interstate commerce (among other barriers to the economic and political harmony of the new nation). Madison wanted to see a congressional check put in place against such state actions.
The states “can pass laws which will accomplish their injurious objects before they can be…set aside by the national tribunals,” Madison told the convention on July 17. In other words, Madison worried that judicial review by the federal courts might take too long in such cases and therefore wanted Congress to be able to move even more quickly against especially dangerous state laws.
Gouverneur Morris spoke for the opposition to that proposal. “A law that ought to be negatived,” Morris replied, “will be set aside in the judiciary department.” Morris did not favor a congressional veto over state legislation because he thought the veto power of the federal courts—judicial review—would do the trick.
Morris beat Madison in that particular debate. The Constitution would not contain a congressional “negative” over state laws. But both sides in the debate did think—indeed, both sides simply took it for granted—that the federal courts would have the constitutional power to “set aside” unconstitutional laws. They all agreed that the federal courts would have the power of judicial review.”
“That same understanding of “the judicial power” is evident when you examine the records of the state ratifying conventions.”
“It is not at all clear what the Biden administration is supposed to do in order to comply with the Court’s decision in Biden v. Texas. That decision suggests that the Department of Homeland Security committed some legal violation when it rescinded a Trump-era immigration policy, but it does not identify what that violation is. And it forces the administration to engage in sensitive negotiations with at least one foreign government without specifying what it needs to secure in those negotiations.
One of the most foundational principles of court decisions involving foreign policy is that judges should be extraordinarily reluctant to mess around with foreign affairs. The decision in Texas defies this principle, fundamentally reshaping the balance of power between judges and elected officials in the process.
The central issue in Texas is the Biden administration’s decision to terminate former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required many asylum seekers arriving at the United States’ southern border to stay in Mexico while they awaited a hearing on their asylum claim. Although the policy was formally ended under Biden, it hasn’t been in effect since March 2020, when the federal government imposed heightened restrictions on border crossings due to Covid-19.
Nevertheless, a Trump-appointed federal judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, ordered the Biden administration to reinstate the policy, and he gave the administration exactly one week to do so. The Supreme Court’s order effectively requires the administration to comply with Kacsmaryk’s order, at least for now, with one vague and confusing modification.
Technically, this case is still on appeal. The Biden administration requested a stay of Kacsmaryk’s order while its appeal is pending. But the administration is now under an immediate obligation to comply with that order.
And the Supreme Court’s decision to deny the stay bodes very ill for the ultimate outcome of that appeal. The Court did not disclose every justice’s vote, but liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan did disclose that they dissent.”
“Kacsmaryk’s opinion, it should be noted, was dead wrong. It effectively claimed that a 1996 law required the federal government to implement the Remain in Mexico policy permanently. That policy didn’t even exist until 2019, so the upshot of Kacsmaryk’s opinion is that the government violated the law for nearly a quarter-century and no one noticed.
The Supreme Court does not go that far. Instead, it suggests that the Biden administration did not adequately explain why it chose to end the Remain in Mexico policy. In theory, that’s a solvable problem. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas could comply with the Supreme Court’s decision by issuing a new memo providing a more fleshed-out explanation.
Except that the Supreme Court does not even offer a hint as to why it deemed the Biden administration’s original explanation insufficient.”
” without an explanation as to how it could comply with the conservative justices’ understanding of the law, the administration is left with two untenable choices. The first is that it can try to guess what, exactly, the justices want them to say in a new memo explaining its policy. The second is to make what could be a futile effort to reinstate Trump’s policy.”
“Mexico is likely to have strong opinions about this abrupt policy shift. The original Remain in Mexico policy came about only after the United States secured Mexico’s cooperation, and it is unlikely that the United States could successfully reimplement this policy without Mexico’s permission.
So one of the upshots of the Supreme Court’s order is that the administration must now go, hat in hand, to the Mexican government and beg them to cooperate again.
For decades, the Supreme Court warned the judiciary to avoid “unwarranted judicial interference in the conduct of foreign policy.” Judges, the Court explained in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (2013), should be “particularly wary of impinging on the discretion of the Legislative and Executive Branches in managing foreign affairs.”
Apparently that’s all out the window now: Unless the Biden administration can figure out what it needs to put in a new memo explaining its policy, it must reopen diplomatic negotiations with Mexico (and possibly with Central American nations whose citizens are seeking asylum in the United States) in order to reinstate a policy that it does not agree with, and that it believes, in Mayorkas’s words, will leave untold numbers of immigrants without “stable access to housing, income, and safety.””
“The decision upends the balance of power between the elected branches and the judiciary. It gives a right-wing judge extraordinary power to supervise sensitive diplomatic negotiations. And it most likely forces the administration to open negotiations with Mexico, while the Mexican government knows full well that the administration can’t walk away from those negotiations without risking a contempt order.
With this order, Republican-appointed judges are claiming the power to direct US foreign policy — and don’t even feel obligated to explain themselves.”
“One of the first things on the agenda this year for Kentucky Republicans was figuring out how to kneecap Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. They dropped legislation in January that placed new limits on the governor’s emergency executive powers, quickly passed the bill, overrode his veto and then fought him in court.
In the months that have followed, lawmakers across the country — from Maine to California, Oregon to Florida — have proposed and, in many cases, passed similar measures to curtail the sweeping powers bestowed on their state executives.”
“Most governors insisted throughout the crisis that they were being guided by evolving science and trying to navigate uncertain terrain as best they could. But patience appears to have worn out for many legislators consigned to the backseat.”
“In some states, it has been a continuation of philosophical differences that have played out over the course of the still-ongoing pandemic. That dynamic has been particularly evident in places sporting Democratic governors contending with GOP-controlled statehouses like Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan, where conservative outrage over Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic mandates put her in physical danger last year.
But for other governors, it has been members of their own party who have been the ones trying to wrestle back control and deliver emphatic rebukes of their state’s leadership, as was the case in New York and Ohio last month.”
“Generally speaking, however, the GOP has tilted far more toward limiting what governors are allowed to do by law than Democrats to date.”
“just one of 34 currently active national emergencies—each coming with its own special powers that the president can use until he decides to stop. The longest-running was invoked by President Jimmy Carter in response to the Iran hostage crisis (which ended in 1981, though the “emergency” never did). Other emergencies authorized by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump are still humming along too, many with no obvious end in sight.
Congress can respond to presidential emergency declarations by disapproving of them after the fact, which it occasionally does.”
“But doing so requires a supermajority of both chambers and, generally, Congress can’t be persuaded to get off its collective duff.”
“Under a bill the two senators reintroduced..all presidential emergency declarations would expire after 72 hours unless Congress votes to allow them to continue.”
“the bill is undermined by the fact that Paul and Wyden propose to exempt some presidential powers, such as those granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which allows presidents to impose sanctions on foreign officials and businesses deemed a threat to American national security. The powers granted by the IEEPA form the basis of many of the 34 ongoing national emergencies”