While a small group of Senate Republicans were busy causing procedural chaos over the #CRomnibus, a lower-profile court case bringing a direct challenge to the constitutionality of Obama’s “executive amnesty” was quietly making its way through the federal court system.
And guess what—the conservative position won.
Although the decision declaring executive amnesty unconstitutional came down within the context of a criminal case, meaning that we don’t yet know what the courts would do in the civil context, the holding delivers a blow to those who have chosen to back Obama’s disregard for the separation of powers.
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab issued the first-of-its-kind ruling Tuesday in the case of Elionardo Juarez-Escobar, a Honduran immigrant charged in federal court with unlawful re-entry after being arrested earlier this year in Pennsylvania for drunk driving.
“President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore, is unconstitutional,” Schwab wrote in his 38-page opinion (posted here). “President Obama’s November 20, 2014 Executive Action goes beyond prosecutorial discretion because: (a) it provides for a systematic and rigid process by which a broad group of individuals will be treated differently than others based upon arbitrary classifications, rather than case-by-case examination; and (b) it allows undocumented immigrants, who fall within these broad categories, to obtain substantive rights.”
Most notably, the court shot down the government’s argument that President Obama’s actions were justified because Congress failed to act. They disallowed Obama’s ticking clock theory, and instead redirected focus on the importance of maintaining the power balance.
Presidential action may not serve as a stop-gap or a bargaining chip to be used against the legislative branch. While “the power of executing the laws necessarily includes both authority and responsibility to resolve some questions left open by Congress that arise during the law’s administration,” it does not include unilateral implementation of legislative policies.”
The Volokh Conspiracy’s Jonathan Adler explains why this sort of case—which is obviously of a lower profile and not nearly as media-shiny as those brought by the states—could end up succeeding where others fail:
This isn’t the only case challenging the lawfulness of the Obama’s immigration actions. Some two-dozen states have filed suit challenging Obama’s recent immigration policy reforms. Led by Texas, these states claim that the president as exceeded the scope of executive authority in this area. As I’ve noted before, I’m skeptical of these arguments on the merits (as is Ilya), and wonder whether the states will be able to satisfy the requirements of Article III standing to bring their claims. Yet as this case shows, even if the states don’t have standing, the legality of the president’s actions could nonetheless be decided in federal court.
Whether or not those suits by the states succeed, this is strike 1, and it’s a tool we can use to keep attacking this mess.
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