Justices rebuff states’ request to reinstate public-charge rule, but leave door open for further litigation

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Opinion analysis: Justices toe hard line in affirming reservation status for eastern Oklahoma

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By Amy Howe


at 5:25 pm

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to resolve an attempt by 14 states to resuscitate litigation over a controversial Trump-era immigration rule immediately after the Biden administration refused to defend it in court. In a brief, unsigned order, the judges said that states must first bring their arguments to the lower courts, but left open the possibility that states might eventually return to the Supreme Court on the matter.

The so-called “public indictment” rule is one that judges have become very familiar with recently. Under federal law, non-US citizens cannot get a green card if the government believes they are likely to be overly dependent on government support – that is, they become a public charge.

After the Trump administration defined the term “public indictment” more broadly than in the past in 2019 to include anyone who had received government benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps for more than 12 months over a three-year period, several followed suit Challenges. When two federal appeals courts ruled in favor of the challengers, the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court and asked the judges to weigh up. The judges agreed to do so in February. Meanwhile, however, newly inducted President Joe Biden ordered a review of the rule, and Biden’s Acting Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar told judges that both the challengers and the administration had agreed to dismiss the case.

Ten days after the court dismissed the case, it was the turn of states to come to the Supreme Court. Under the leadership of Texas, the states told judges that the decision not to defend the rule would cost them “many millions of dollars” because they would have to provide additional Medicaid services to immigrants. States urged judges to effectively reinstate the rule by halting a federal court decision that invalidated it. States also asked the judges to allow them to join the case to defend the rule themselves. By voluntarily dismissing the case, states argued, the Biden government was essentially trying to repeal the rule without going through the normal notification and commenting procedures normally required for formal rule changes.

The Biden administration asked the judges to reject the states’ request and call it “really exceptional”. Congress asked the executive branch to make decisions as they are at the heart of this case, Prelogar wrote. If states could “revive litigation that the executive did not want to pursue, it would thwart the election of the Constitution and Congress.”

Cook County, Illinois, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, two of the original challengers who sued the Trump administration over the rule, approved the administration’s opposition. They stressed that the rule had already been lifted “after a controversial process in which the previous government vigorously defended the rule”, so that states would not have to intervene now. While states may not agree with the changes made by the Biden administration, they concluded that “this does not give them permission to extend this legal battle over the now-free rule”.

In a decision that was passed on Monday morning as part of the decision list of the judges’ conference on April 23, the court briefly reported – in a somewhat unusual step for a summarizing decision – the history of the case and rejected the request of the states to go to the conference immediately intervene in litigation in the Supreme Court. The court also denied states’ request for an emergency injunction to temporarily reinstate the rule. However, it was suggested that states could return to the district court to bring the same arguments they had brought before the Supreme Court, including the argument that the Biden government terminated the settlement without complying with the notification and comment requirements. After the district court has decided on these arguments, the states can, as the Supreme Court found, appeal again to the 7th circuit and, if necessary, apply for further emergency aid from the Supreme Court.

This post was originally published on Howe on the Court.