Obama Administration Appeals Judge’s Move to Block Executive Action on Immigration

Houston, TX (Law Firm Newswire) March 18, 2015 – The Justice Department is arguing that the Texas judge’s ruling violates constitutional separation of powers.

On February 16, a federal judge in Texas ruled that President Obama’s executive action on immigration must not be implemented until the courts have an opportunity to decide whether the chief executive’s order was constitutional. When the ruling was issued, the White House objected but did not immediately move to counteract it. As of February 23, the Justice Department has responded to the judge’s ruling, filing a motion to appeal his decision.

In the Justice Department’s legal brief, government lawyers argued that U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, erred when he blocked the president’s executive action to defer the deportation of potentially millions of undocumented immigrants. According to their motion, the judge’s ruling violates the constitutional separation of powers.

In his original opinion, Judge Hanen argued that the president’s executive action made “a substantive change to immigration policy,” and that it was, “in effect, a new law.” The administration met that argument head-on, arguing that the judge was himself attempting to make law through his injunction, which interfered with “core executive functions concerning the exercise of discretion in the complex task of enforcing the immigration laws.”

In addition to their separation-of-powers argument, the Justice Department lawyers asserted that allowing Judge Hanen’s injunction to remain in place pending an appeal would result in harm to the “interests of the public and of third parties, who will be deprived of the significant law enforcement and humanitarian benefits of prompt implementation of the guidance.”

“While Washington was rife with guesses over precisely how the Obama administration would respond to the federal judge’s ruling, it would have been inconceivable for the White House not to challenge the judge’s threat to one of its core achievements,” said Annie Banerjee, a prominent attorney in Houston who specializes in immigration law. “And the Justice Department has responded with a potent separation-of-powers constitutional argument.”

In its brief, the Justice Department provided Judge Hanen with a rationale for a very limited version of his ruling: due to the judge’s finding that the president’s executive action cost the state of Texas money (because it had to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants), Hanen could apply his ruling to Texas only and allow the president’s executive action to proceed in the other 49 states.

The Justice Department’s full appeal will be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but any ruling issued by that Republican-dominated court may simply move the case on to the Supreme Court.

“The combination of a very politically divisive issue like immigration and a constitutional dispute between our branches of government make for a very high-stakes battle, indeed,” Banerjee commented. “Under such circumstances, it would stand to reason that this issue will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.”

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