By: Dina Francesca Haynes Last week, the Supreme Court issued its (non)-decision in Texas v. United States. At issue: whether one judge in Texas could enjoin a federal immigration program crafted by the Executive Branch, and whether the Executive Branch had exceeded its authority in so doing. I wrote about this case earlier this year, predicting a 4-4 split with the current court one justice down. Unfortunately, my prediction was borne out. The 5th Circuit—specifically one judge, Judge Hanen (who was recently accused of abuse of discretion when he imposed sanctions on federal government attorneys whose arguments he didn’t like)—had earlier decided that the State of Texas had established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their procedural and substantive claims required for an injunction. What is unusual in this case is that a district judge's preliminary injunction applies nationwide (and not, as would ordinarily be the case, in the judge's district only).
Texas v. United States resorts to truncated arguments, neglecting to discuss the opposing position. Furthermore, nowhere in the opinion does the judge indicate the devastating effect that the opinion will have on the people involved. Instead of focusing on the families that are at risk of being ripped apart through deportation as a result of his decision, Judge Hanen portrays the battle as an abstract political one between states that “bear the brunt of illegal immigration” while the (incompetent?) “powers that be” in the capitol are “rubberstamp[ing]” applications to avoid deportation or giving them only a “pro forma review.” No matter how long an opinion is—and this one is more than 120 pages long—it will sound polemical instead of persuasive if it does not recognize the other side’s arguments. Among other things, Judge Hanen’s opinion holds illegal the decision by Jeh Johnson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to limit removal actions against some parents of citizens and permanent residents. The United States had claimed that this decision was not subject to judicial review under the federal Administrative Procedure Act on the grounds that it was a discretionary prosecutorial decision. Judge Hanen disagreed, holding that it was reviewable because, among other things, the statute used the term “shall” in relation to deportation instead of “may.” The judge’s handling of this one small point—the interpretation of “shall” in the statute—is illustrative of his failure to voice the United States’ argument in any but the weakest way. Similarly, his reluctance, in discussing this point, to recognize what is at stake for the families involved may show his fear that doing so would make the reader less sympathetic to his position.