Monday, the Supreme Court issued an order allowing the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule to proceed, pending further appeals. The rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security would make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain immigration benefits if they are likely to use public assistance.

The decision was 5-4 and split neatly down party lines.


The rule that the government will now be able to enforce interprets a provision of federal immigration law that bans noncitizens from receiving a green card if the government believes that they are likely to become a “public charge” – that is, reliant on government assistance. In August 2019, the Department of Homeland Security defined “public charge” to refer to noncitizens who receive a variety of government benefits, including cash, health care or housing, for more than 12 months over a three-year period. The rule also considers factors such as age, employment history and finances to determine whether a noncitizen might become a public charge in the future.

A group of states and immigration groups went to court to challenge the rule, arguing that DHS’s interpretation of the law is not a reasonable one. The district court agreed with the challengers that they were likely to prevail and temporarily blocked the government from enforcing the rule, setting up the government’s request for the Supreme Court to intervene.

Last week the challengers filed briefs urging the justices to turn down the government’s request. They emphasized that the kind of relief that the government was seeking is normally intended to “preserve the status quo,” but allowing the government to enforce the rule would have exactly the opposite effect, because the rule is a “vast expansion” of what it means to be a public charge. Previously, they explained, the term “public charge” had applied only to “individuals who are primarily dependent on the government for long-term subsistence.” Moreover, they added, the government has not suggested that it needs to be able to enforce the rule for public safety or national security reasons.

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District courts around the country had halted the rule from going into action, but the Trump administration was successful before two federal appeals courts, which would have allowed the policy to be enforced.

One nationwide injunction, issued by a district judge in New York and temporarily upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month, still remained in effect.

The top court on Monday froze that injunction, pending a final decision from the 2nd Circuit. Following the 2nd Circuit’s final ruling, the case could eventually make its way back to the Supreme Court.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote a separate concurrence explaining his vote, said that the court was correct to halt the injunction, but that the “real problem” was the rise of nationwide injunctions.

“If a single successful challenge is enough to stay the challenged rule across the country, the government’s hope of implementing any new policy could face the long odds of a straight sweep” of all the district and appeals courts in the country, Gorsuch wrote.

Gorsuch’s concurrence was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

The challenge to the rule was led by the state of New York and immigrant aid groups. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, defended the rule.

During a phone call with reporters, Ken Cuccinelli, acting DHS deputy secretary, said he was happy with the court’s decision. The Supreme Court, he said, was fed up with “activist judges.”

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SCOTUS Immigration Public Charge Ruling by Legal Insurrection on Scribd


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