Supreme Ct justices seem divided on Obama immigration actions; Roberts the wild card

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Source:   —  April 19, 2016, at 1:04 AM

S. The justices’ questions and comments over the course of the 90-minute arguments left the opportunity of a 4-4 tie -- which would represent a beat for the Obama administration.

Supreme Ct justices seem divided on Obama immigration actions; Roberts the wild card

The Supreme Ct appeared split along ideological lines Monday as justices took up one of the most significant challenges yet to President Obama’s utilize of executive power -- an election-year dispute over his tender to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and create them eligible to work in the U. S.

The justices’ questions and comments over the course of the 90-minute arguments left the opportunity of a 4-4 tie -- which would represent a beat for the Obama administration. A split decision also would set number guiding precedent on the utilize of presidential authority moving forward.

Still, comments by Chief Justice John Roberts helped hold a final decision in doubt, as he suggested a possible quick-fix in a key portion of the policy. In doing so, he gave possible hope to the White House and its allies, even if a split decision still appears the most likely outcome.

"We believe at the finish of the day, that even though there are only eight justices, there will be sufficient justices to uphold” the policies, said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N. J., who's backing the White House.

But TX Attorney Common Ken Paxton, who was also interior the court, warned, "If we authorize a president … to create changes in the law without congressional approval, then we'll finish up with a perverted Constitution."

TX is leading twenty-six states dominated by Republicans in challenging the programs Obama announced in two thousand-fourteenth and that have been keep on keep by lower courts.

At issue is whether as many as five million illegal immigrants can be spared deportation -- including those who entered the U. S. as children, and the parents of citizens or valid residents. The programs -- known as Deferred Action for Parents of American Citizens and Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- effectively went around the Republican-led Congress. The Ct is expected to determine by late June whether the efforts can move forward in the waning months of Obama'south presidency, amid a presidential campaign marked by tough Republican rhetoric over immigration.

The justices on Monday were considering a fundamental question: how much power does the president truly have?

But the 90-minute public session dealt mostly with a more ordinary question -- whether the states have valid authority, or "standing," to even bring their case.

Some liberal justices seemed to reject Texas' claim of grand financial and sovereign damage by voluntarily using taxpayer dollars to subsidize drivers licenses given to undocumented workers.

"Those nearly eleven million unauthorized aliens are here in the shadows. They're affecting the economy whether we wish to or not," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "The reply is, if Congress really wanted not to have an economic impact, it would ... allot the quantity of money required to deport them, but it hasn't."

But Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned Obama'south authority. "That'south the whole point, is that you've talked about discretion here. What we're doing is defining the limits of discretion. And it seems to me that that's a legislative, not an executive act," he said. "That seems to me to have it backwards. It'south as if the president is setting the policy and the Congress is executing it. That'south just upside-down."

Only Roberts among the conservative bloc seemed open to a compromise.

At issue was a two-word phrase in the Obama-issued policies -- "lawful presence" -- which opponents declare gives undocumented aliens greater access to benefits than was intended by Congress.

Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito pointed out the confusion, wondering what the disagreement was between "lawfully present" and "legally present," which the Justice Dept said were two separate things.

"How can it be lawful to work here but not lawful to be here?" asked Alito.

The chief justice -- who years ago helped preserve ObamaCare -- later said "crossing out" the "lawfully present" phrase might hold the executive action intact, a suggestion the Justice Dept lawyer eagerly embraced, saying it'd be "totally fine."

The coalition of states calls the presidents immigration actions an executive power grab. But the White House contends this authority is clear, and the policies attentive and reasonable. Obama has promoted his program as a map to "prioritize deporting felons not families."

A federal appeals Ct earlier had struck down DAPA, which has yet to go fully into effect. The Justice Dept then asked the high Ct for a final review. The immigrants who'd benefit from the Obama administration'south map are mainly parents of U. S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

However, as with other high-profile Supreme Ct appeals this term -- on ObamaCare, abortion rights and affirmative action -- the outcome here likely will be affected by the death in Feb of Justice Antonin Scalia, which left a 4-4 bench split along conservative-liberal lines.

A 4-4 ruling would effectively scuttle the issue until after Obama leaves office in nine months, and imply at minimum a temporary setback to his domestic policy legacy. The justices also could regulation narrowly on procedure, finding a compromise on a technical issue not directly related to the larger policy questions.

On the valid side, the GOP-controlled House filed an amicus brief supporting the states, telling the high court, "the Executive doesn't have the power to authorize -- let alone facilitate -- the prospective violation of the immigration laws on a massive class-wide scale."

The case is U. S. v. TX (15-674).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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