A closely divided Supreme Court allowed President Donald Trump to shield documents relating to the cancellation of DACA, an Obama-era amnesty initiative that extended temporary legal status to foreign nationals who illegally entered the country as children.
The Court divided five to four along ideological lines in a late Friday ruling that temporarily permits the administration to conceal records relating to the program. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented from the decision, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
The ruling is likely a boon to Trump’s efforts to defend DACA’s termination.
“The Department of Justice is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision today putting on hold the district court’s overreach,” DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said. “The Department of Homeland Security acted within its lawful authority in deciding to wind down DACA in an orderly manner, and the Justice Department believes the courts will ultimately agree.”
The case was occasioned when a coalition of four states sued the administration over its September decision to end DACA, which has benefited some 800,000 individuals. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, now president of the University of California system, also joined with the plaintiffs.
In response to the lawsuit, the administration furnished nearly 250 pages of documents relating to the program’s termination. Plaintiffs, suspecting that the government was hiding DACA records, argued that the administration would have produced a greater body of work before cancelling such a sprawling, consequential program. U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed, and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to release more documents. A divided panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Alsup’s ruling, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.
In an extraordinary move, Alsup filed his own brief at the high court, arguing Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the government’s Supreme Court lawyer, misrepresented the scope of his order. The Daily Caller News Foundation was unable to determine when a trial court judge had last filed a brief in the Supreme Court concerning their own ruling.
The Court nonetheless sided with the administration, but did not explain its reasons for doing so.
In dissent, Breyer argued that courts cannot effectively supervise federal agency action without reviewing all relevant materials.
“[J]udicial review cannot function if the agency is permitted to decide unilaterally what documents it submits to the reviewing court as the administrative record,” Breyer wrote. “Effective review depends upon the administrative record containing all relevant materials presented to the agency, including not only materials supportive of the government’s decision but also materials contrary to the government’s decision.”
Breyer also noted it is highly unusual for the Court to rule on a matter involving discovery or document production.
The case will now return to federal court in San Francisco for further proceedings.
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