The Supreme Court has voted to allow the Trump administration to enforce its new rule that restricts the eligibility of new immigrants who are deemed to likely become “public charges” if they receive visas.
The top court justices voted 5–4 on Jan. 27 to grant a stay on nationwide injunctions issued by a lower court, allowing the Trump administration to enforce its “public charge” rule across the country, except for Illinois, while the appeals play out in court. A separate injunction ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois remains in effect, but only in that state.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan said in the opinion (pdf) that they would have prevented the rule from taking effect.
The public charge rule, which was issued in 2019, provides clarification about what factors would be considered when determining whether someone is likely at any time in the future to become a public charge. A public charge refers to an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence through assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.
The rule will consider a person a public charge if they receive at least one government benefit for more than 12 months in a three-year period.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, previously said that the rule was implemented because the administration wanted to “see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient.”
Meanwhile, opponents of the rule say it discourages immigrants and their families from accessing necessities such as health, food, and housing programs that supplement their wages and “help them make ends meet.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Jan. 22 that the rule leaves the door open for discrimination and uncertainty. The U.S. House of Representatives filed a motion (pdf) to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the challengers of the rule.
The rule was challenged by several states and immigration groups, leading to injunctions that prevented the rule from going into effect on Oct. 15, 2019. Two federal appeals courts—the 4th Circuit and the 9th Circuit—lifted similar injunctions in December 2019. But the 2nd Circuit has refused to set aside a pair of injunctions issued by a New York District Court, prompting the Trump administration to file an emergency request (pdf) to the top court earlier in January to lift those blocks.
The Supreme Court’s order reverses the 2nd Circuit’s decision to keep the nationwide injunctions in place while the appeals are pending. The injunctions that have an expansive reach far outside the confines of the current case attracted criticism from Justice Neil Gorsuch, who, in a separate concurring opinion, underscored that the court at some point needed to “confront” the “real problem” of the case. Justice Clarence Thomas joined in that opinion.
“The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them,” Gorsuch wrote. “Whether framed as injunctions of ‘nationwide,’ ‘universal,’ or ‘cosmic’ scope, these orders share the same basic flaw—they direct how the defendant must act toward persons who are not parties to the case.”
He said that nationwide injunctions raise “serious questions” about the scope of the court’s powers under Article III of the Constitution. He added that the equitable remedies, and remedies in general, are meant to redress the harm sustained by a plaintiff in a lawsuit.
“But when a court goes further than that, ordering the government to take (or not take) some action with respect to those who are strangers to the suit, it is hard to see how the court could still be acting in the judicial role of resolving cases and controversies,” he said.
The White House and New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office didn’t immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.