by Peter M. Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University
Decades ago, the late constitutional scholar Charles Black offered an important functional justification for giving federal courts the power to say “no” to unconstitutional laws and executive actions: It is the judicial power to say “no” that gives the judicial power to say “yes” its legitimating force. Government benefits mightily when a judicial opinion upholding official action puts at rest, if not an underlying policy debate, then at least the public’s interest in prolonging a constitutional battle about whether the challenged action is at least lawful. Such seems to have been the result in 2011when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. A judicial imprimatur can have this beneficial impact, however, only if the public understands that courts make independent judgments.
For this reason, despite powerful legal arguments that U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen should not have reached the merits of any issue regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s program of “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” (DAPA), the country may be better off once a court does so. My difficulty with Judge Hanen’s massively overwritten 123-page opinion in Texas v. United States is not that Texas got past threshold procedural barriers to judicial review. It is that, in an ideologically driven opinion, Judge Hanen simply gets the law wrong.
As a formal matter, Judge Hanen grants Texas the preliminary injunction it seeks because he deems Texas likely to succeed in challenging the DAPA policy on a procedural basis, namely, publication of the policy without an opportunity for public comment under the Administrative Procedure Act. His conclusion on this point is wrong, as I discuss below, but perhaps foreordained by a more glaring error. Although Judge Hanen purports to rule only on procedural grounds, his opinion makes crystal clear that he thinks DAPA exceeds the DHS Secretary’s legal authority. His analysis is framed by an overarching narrative about how a supposedly feckless federal government is victimizing the helpless states by simultaneously hoarding to itself all authority over immigration and then abandoning a constitutional duty to protect the states from the burdens imposed by the presence in the U.S. of millions of undocumented immigrants. (If you want to see what judicial empathy for a plaintiff looks like, reading Judge Hanen’s 47-page analysis of Texas’s standing to sue would make a good start.)
Judge Hanen’s framing is doubly unfortunate. First, it ignores the ways in which the DAPA program would boost state economies and accompanying tax revenues. As 14 states and the District of Columbia have argued in an amicus brief supporting DAPA: “When immigrants are able to work legally—even for a limited time—their wages increase, they seek work compatible with their skill level, and they enhance their skills to obtain higher wages, all of which benefits State economies by increasing income and growing the tax base.” Moreover, Judge Hanen’s narrative of states as victims leads him to four outright mischaracterizations of DAPA.
To see these misconceptions starkly, it is helpful to consider that the measures DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson implemented through two memoranda on November 20, 2014 effectively accomplish three things. First, they establish national immigration enforcement priorities, instructing all immigration agencies within DHS as to the highest priorities for detention and removal, as well as the criteria for a new program of deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and other legally permanent residents. With or without DAPA, DHS’s immigration components would be free to follow these priorities in their law enforcement activities.