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Sonia Sotomayor Calls The Case On DACA’s Fate One Of The Justices Deciding Whether To Destroy Lives

While the US Supreme Court’s conservative-majority justices are seemingly ready to allow Trump to rescind Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Justice Sonia Sotomayor clearly stated her opinion that the court’s decision, “is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.” The 2012 policy shields immigrants, who were brought to the United States as children without documentation, from deportation and allows them to work for up to two years at a time. Research shows that DACA has reduced the number of undocumented immigrants living in poverty, and has improved mental health status for DACA participants and their children. The Trump administration rescinded DACA protections for nearly 700,000 recipients in 2017. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to end DACA and is expected to deliver a decision by Spring 2020.

Two memos lie at the heart of the decision.

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The first memo was begrudgingly given by then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine C. Duke. Duke’s volunteer history included offering legal aid to immigrants. During a White House meeting with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she was pressured to issue a memo that would end DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Duke that DACA was illegal, on the grounds of it exceeding presidential power. Duke issued a bare-bones memo that offered no policy reason for the end of DACA, except that it was unlawful. She later resigned.

Her replacement, Kirstjen Nielsen, retroactively justified the decision with a second memo, which included a new reason to end DACA: to project a message of consistency of enforcement of all immigration laws.

Now, US solicitor general Noel Francisco is arguing that Obama’s decision to introduce DACA exceeded presidential power.

Credit: @realdonaldtrump / Twitter

“Basic administrative law is you look at what’s first given to you,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Francisco, not “what you add later.” Still, she said that even if “you ignore that and even look at the Nielsen memo, I think my colleagues have rightly pointed there’s a whole lot of reliance interests that weren’t looked at.” What’s crucial to this decision, according to Sotomayor, is that President Trump had told “DACA-eligible people that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here. And so he hasn’t and, instead, he’s done this.” 

In 2017, Trump tweeted, in reference to DACA recipients, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”

Trump tweeted Tuesday that DACA recipients are “far from angels.”

Credit: @realdonaldtrump / Twitter

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,'” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!”

A major requirement for DACA recipients is that they have no criminal record. “Trump is fear-mongering and falsely accusing people of color,” Dr. Eugene Gu tweeted. “Many DACA recipients are doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists, teachers, and integral members of society. Many have never set foot in their original countries for their whole lives and speak mainly English. Threatening to deport them through racist fear-mongering is evil.”

The events leading up to the memo led Sotomayor to believe “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”

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Trump’s promise to protect DACA recipients during his campaign and his about-face is “something to be considered before you rescind a policy. Not just say I’ll give you six months to do it – to destroy your lives.” At the end of the day, Sotomayor is pointing out that Francisco’s argument is not evident in the memos. “Where is all of this in the memo? Where is all of this really considered and weighed? And where is the political decision made clearly,” she asked. Sotomayor concluded, “that this is not about the law; this is about our choice to destroy lives.”

Sotomayor also argued that DACA simply allows law enforcement agencies to prioritize its use of its limited resources.

Credit: @Grindr / Twitter

“I have always had some difficulty in understanding the illegality of DACA,” Sotomayor offered her opinion. “We all know [ICE] has limited resources. It can’t, even when it wants to remove the vast majority of aliens we have here. And so I’ve always had some difficulty in understanding what’s wrong with an agency saying, we’re going to prioritize our removals, and for those people, like the DACA people who haven’t committed crimes, who are lawfully employed, who are paying taxes, who pose no threat to our security, and there’s a whole list of prerequisites, we’re not going to exercise our limited resources to try to get rid of those people. I — I still have an impossible time.”

Oh, and Sotomayor was interrupted numerous times by Francisco and her male peers.

Credit: US Supreme Court

A 2017 Northwestern Pritzker School of Law study found that male justices interrupt female justices three times as often as each other during oral arguments. The study also found that conservative justices were twice as likely to interrupt liberal justices than liberal justices were to interrupt their conservative peers. According to Supreme Court transcripts, Justice Sotomayor was interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch. The two both awkwardly apologized to each other when Sotomayor graciously told Gorsuch, “No, no, continue.”

When Justice Sotomayor was in the middle of her arguments, General Francisco interrupted her, saying, “So I guess I have three responses, Your Honor.” Sotomayor bluntly said, “All right. But let me just finish my question.” Francisco casually said, “Oh, sure,” to which Sotomayor incredulously asked, “Okay?” “Yeah,” Francisco responded to the Justice.

A decision is expected to be made public by Spring 2020.

READ: Justice Sonia Sotomayor Breaks New Two-Minute Rule By Interrupting Lawyer During Immigration Case

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