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Supreme Court’s DACA Ruling and Chief Justice Roberts’ Deciding Vote


BY: Margaret Pham


In September of 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared, “I am here to announce that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded”. 


DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protected nearly 700,000 “Dreamers”, those who were unlawfully brought into the United States as children, from deportation. These individuals would be allowed forbearance from immigration removal for two years at a time and are eligible for renewable work permits. Contrary to popular misinformation, eligibility is not open to anyone who has felonies or misdemeanors on their criminal record. For these DREAMers, a large population of them have never known a home other than on U.S. soil. In fact, each year, DACA participants pay nearly $60 Billion in taxes, largely contributing to the U.S. economy. 


Nearly two years later, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision halted the cancellation of DACA, however, only temporarily. Chief Justice G. Roberts Jr. cited the Trump administration’s failure to adhere to the Administrative Procedure Act, “The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA”. Chief Justice G. Roberts Jr., who was the consequential vote, writes in his opinion, 


“The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so… Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope… or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is, therefore, to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew” (Dept. of Homeland Security v. Regents of Univ. of California, 591).


The Administrative Procedure Act that the Supreme Court cites in the ruling of this decision is from 1946, passed during World War II which establishes how federal agencies, in this case, the Department of Homeland Security, propose and issue regulations: the cancellation of DACA. Whether establishing new policies or striking them down, certain rules must be followed and there needs to be “reasoned decision-making”. The underwhelming arguments to cancel DACA were neither sufficient nor did the White House offer a reasonable alternative to those who would be affected in consequence to the program’s rescinding. The court majority focused on the two parts of DACA: “forbearance”, or deportation protection, and “certain federal benefits”. Those in dissent, such as Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, newly appointed by President Donald Trump to assume Anthony Kennedy’s seat in 2018, argued that the secretary to the DHS provided ample information addressing those concerns. Kirstjen Nielsen’s memo that came nine-months later was, “posthoc rationalization and thus are not properly before us” from the 1943 case SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318., dismissed from the case as the department’s reasoning came too late. 


It is important to note that the Supreme Court’s decision still leaves Dreamers a victory yet to be won. It is clear that the court did not stand by to support DACA recipients, but merely blocked the process in which the Trump administration chose to take down the program, never clearly protecting the program itself and who it serves. The Court’s statements leave Dreamers legally unprotected while gently “explaining” to the administration how to dismantle DACA properly… the next time around. 


Conservative-leaning Chief Justice Roberts claims his consequential vote serves as his efforts to keep the Court apolitical. In his Associated Press response to Trump’s scathing tweet that accused his decision “horrible & politically charged… shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives”, Roberts issued a rare statement after another Supreme Court decision earlier this week that blocked the administration’s efforts from blocking migrants from applying for asylum, saying, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for”. Robert’s vote adheres to his familiar pattern, ruling in favor of pragmatism in wake of a deeply politically divided America. 



As established by Marbury v. Madison in 1803, the Supreme Court stands as the final interpreter of the Constitution. In this case, judicial review fulfilled its promise to the American people, “the promise of equal justice under law”. Where the other two branches of American government stand polarized and charged with partisanship, judicial review does its best to check the balances. However impartial it may try to be, the fact still remains that Supreme Court appointments have turned increasingly partisan. Though the system itself was created to be impartial, there is no doubt that recent American politics have loomed over clerks, reflecting each sitting president’s ideologies. The coming decisions that the Court will face in the next few weeks will serve to show what this Court’s term truly stands for: the people or the politics. 


*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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