Supreme Court rules Texas law to enforce border and immigration laws can go into effect pending Biden appeal for injunction

 March 20, 2024

The state of Texas recently passed a law that criminalized illegal entry across the southern border and empowered local law enforcement to arrest illegal migrants and state court judges to order deportations to Mexico, which prompted a lawsuit from the Biden administration and a district court injunction against the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled 6-3 on Tuesday that the new Texas could go into effect, at least for the time being while the state's appeal against the district court's preliminary injunction remains pending at the circuit court level, according to NBC News.

The majority provided no explanation or reasoning, though Justice Amy Coney Barrett issued a concurring opinion expressing unease with the high court's intervention at such an early stage in the case's proceedings. Meanwhile, the three liberal justices issued a pair of dissenting opinions that expressed their concerns over the potential impact of the law.

Blocked, then unblocked, then blocked again, and now unblocked once more

SCOTUSblog reported that almost immediately after the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 4, the Biden administration sued to block it from taking effect, as did two private organizations and El Paso County, and those two cases have since been consolidated together as one.

A district court ruled in late February that SB4 was likely unconstitutional and ordered it blocked with a preliminary injunction, but Texas appealed and the Fifth Circuit Court issued an administrative stay to block the injunction.

The Biden administration then further appealed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Samuel Alito issued a temporary administrative stay of his own, which had the effect of reimposing the preliminary injunction, to grant the high court time to consider the matter.

That led to Tuesday's decision in which the Biden administration's request for an order to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the district court's injunction was denied, which essentially allows the Texas law to go into effect while the state's appeal on the merits at the circuit level remains pending.

Abbott calls ruling a "positive development" while White House says law is "harmful and unconstitutional"

According to NBC News, Texas' SB4 law both criminalizes at the state level illegal entry into Texas across the southern border and authorizes state and local law enforcement to arrest and detain suspected illegal migrants, while also authorizing state court judges to order said illegal migrants deported back to where they arrived from, typically Mexico.

The Biden administration argued that SB4 was unconstitutional as the federal government retains sole authority to enforce border security and immigration laws, but Texas countered by asserting that the administration has abdicated its obligations by refusing to enforce existing federal laws while also citing a constitutional provision that allows states to defend and enforce their borders when "actually invaded" by a foreign force -- in this case drug cartels, human traffickers, and illegal migrants.

In response to the Supreme Court's ruling on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in an X post, "BREAKING: In a 6-3 decision SCOTUS allows Texas to begin enforcing SB4 that allows the arrest of illegal immigrants. We still have to have hearings in the 5th circuit federal court of appeals. But this is clearly a positive development."

As for the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement, "We fundamentally disagree with the Supreme Court’s order allowing Texas’ harmful and unconstitutional law to go into effect. S.B. 4 will not only make communities in Texas less safe, it will also burden law enforcement, and sow chaos and confusion at our southern border."

"S.B. 4 is just another example of Republican officials politicizing the border while blocking real solutions," she added. "We remained focused on delivering the significant policy changes and resources we need to secure the border -- that is why we continue to call on Congressional Republicans to pass the bipartisan border security agreement, the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades."

Fifth Circuit further expedites the appeals process

According to SCOTUSblog, the Fifth Circuit had already fast-tracked the case and scheduled oral arguments for April 3 on the Biden administration's request to allow the preliminary injunction to remain in place until the dispute is fully resolved on the merits.

After the Supreme Court issued its decision on Tuesday, however, NBC News reported that the Fifth Circuit further expedited the process and moved those oral arguments up to take place on Wednesday, signaling that it would act quickly to decide whether to keep the injunction in place or allow the law to fully take effect while the ongoing litigation remains pending.

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