Supreme Court Denies Request to Halt Public Charge Rule During Pandemic

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
April 25, 2020Updated: April 26, 2020

The Supreme Court has denied a request to suspend the enforcement of the “public charge” rule until the CCP virus pandemic is over.

The top court on April 24 denied a motion (pdf) by three states—New York, Connecticut, and Vermont—and New York City to temporarily lift or modify a previous order that allowed the public charge rule to take effect nationwide.

While the court didn’t provide reasoning for the denial, the justices did leave open the possibility that the attorneys general could seek relief in the lower courts.

The three states and New York City filed a motion earlier this month urging the top court to halt the implementation of the new rule, because they claim it discourages immigrants and their families from accessing health care and public benefits needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, or mitigate the economic effects of the virus.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, arguing on behalf of the Trump administration, opposed the motion, arguing that the federal government has considered the arguments of the states but concluded that “a wholesale suspension of the rule, just as they sought before the COVID-19 crisis … is not warranted.”

“The public has an interest in both addressing the COVID-19 crisis and enforcing lawful immigration policy—and it is the Executive Branch that is charged with determining how best to do both,” Francisco wrote in his brief (pdf).

“Rather than a wholesale suspension, the Executive Branch has instead opted to take more targeted steps to ensure that the rule is being administered in an appropriate way in light of current conditions.”

Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court lifted nationwide injunctions issued by a New York District Court and upheld by the 2nd Circuit that blocked the rule from going into effect. The top court lifted a similar injunction that prevented the rule from going into effect in Illinois in February. The effect of the two decisions allows the Trump administration to enforce the rule nationwide while the appeals play out in court.

In a statement on April 24, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that she will continue the fight to suspend the enforcement of the public charge rule amid the pandemic.

“The Supreme Court’s order tonight allows us to continue the fight to halt the Public Charge Rule during the current public health crisis, and gives us the opportunity to make our case in a federal court in New York,” she said.

“We will soon file an emergency motion in the Southern District of New York because our country cannot afford to wait. The Public Charge Rule threatens the public’s health, our economy, and all New Yorkers—citizens and non-citizens alike. Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow.”

The public charge rule that went into effect in February makes immigrants inadmissible to the United States or potentially ineligible for permanent residency or a visa renewal if they are likely to become a public charge at any time in the future.

The new rule, issued in August last year, provides clarification about what factors would be considered when determining whether someone is likely to become a public charge in the future. A “public charge” refers to an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, by receiving assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

It will consider a person a public charge if they receive at least one government benefit for more than 12 months in aggregate during a three-year period.