The Trump administration appears to have scored another tentative victory in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, justices declined to overrule a federal law making it illegal for Americans to encourage undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.
Writing in the court’s opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained that the “appeals panel departed so drastically from the principle of party presentation as to constitute an abuse of discretion” in the case.
Background on the case
As part of the court’s ruling, the case will be sent back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to be reconsidered.
This week’s decision was a long time in the making, dating back to the 2010 indictment of immigration consultant Evelyn Sineneng-Smith in California on charges of violating anti-harboring laws by encouraging clients to remain in the U.S. illegally.
She went on to argue that the statutes she had been accused of breaking constituted a violation of her right to free speech. The appeals court bolstered that opinion by ruling the laws were overly broad in restricting an individual’s constitutional liberty.
The Supreme Court effectively voided that ruling, however, by focusing on the specific issue of the third-party arguments the Ninth Circuit used in reaching its decision.
According to the Supreme Court decision this week, its conclusion hinged on the dearth of arguments presented to the court by people directly involved in the matter.
What comes next
The latest ruling does not, however, put an end to the debate over whether existing anti-harboring laws are a violation of the First Amendment.
Instead, the Supreme Court dealt more directly with court rules and processes, giving the appeals court another opportunity to present a more balanced decision.
Until then, those closely following the immigration issue will have to wait for the process to continue unfolding.
The Ninth Circuit issued a separate immigration-related ruling this week, upholding by a 2-1 margin a preliminary injunction on the Trump administration’s 2019 order that immigrants would be prevented from entering the country without “approved” health care coverage.
If this anti-harboring issue arrives before the Supreme Court again, it could give justices the opportunity to actually make a substantial ruling on the important underlying debate.