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Court turns down Arizona on immigrant issue

UPDATING EARLIER POST:  Over the dissents of three Justices, the Supreme Court today rejected Arizona’s request to allow it to deny driver’s licenses to young undocumented immigrants who have been permitted by Obama administration policy to remain in the United States.  In a brief order, the Court refused to block a temporary ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit requiring the state to issue driver’s licenses to the so-called “Dreamers” — young adults who came to this country illegally as children — if they have permits allowing them to have jobs here.  Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas said they would have granted the state’s request.  There were no explanations by either the majority or the dissenters.  Arizona remains free to pursue a regular appeal to the Court.


Five young adults from other countries who have been allowed by the Obama administration to stay in the United States and get jobs told the Supreme Court today that it would be premature for the Justices to rule now on the government’s power to put off deportation of undocumented immigrants.

The young adults, joined by an advocacy group that seeks to protect them, made the plea in urging the Court to turn down a request by Arizona to allow the state at least temporarily to deny them driver’s licenses.

Arizona is one of only two states — Nebraska is the other — that have adopted policies to deny driver’s licenses to young people who entered the country illegally as children but are temporarily allowed to remain under a policy change President Obama and his aides made  two years ago.

Arizona has been temporarily denied permission by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to continue enforcing its license denials policy as the case goes ahead in a federal trial court.  Arizona officials asked the Court to put the Ninth Circuit’s decision on hold until the state can challenge it in a coming appeal.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, acting as Circuit Justice for the area that includes Arizona, is considering the state’s request, filed last week.  He has the authority to act alone or share a decision with his colleagues.

In taking the driver’s license issue to the Supreme Court, Arizona officials attempted to draw the Court into the heated national debate over whether President Obama acted unconstitutionally in 2012, and again this year, in postponing the deportation of some undocumented immigrants as a humanitarian gesture while awaiting new immigration legislation that Congress so far has refused to pass.

In replying to that broader challenge by Arizona, the five young adults — known as “Dreamers” because of the name given to the 2012 policy change — along with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition said that the Court should await the outcome of newly filed court cases challenging the president before undertaking any review itself.

A group of twenty-five states and a county sheriff in Arizona have filed lawsuits in federal trial courts, contending that, in the absence of new legislation from Congress, the new 2014 deferral of deportations exceeds the president’s authority.

The new lawsuits, today’s filing said, “squarely challenge the Executive’s power.”  The “Dreamers” did not concede, however, that it would be appropriate for the Court ultimately to rule on those challenges, but argued simply that the current Arizona application is not the proper test case.

On the policy against issuing driver’s licenses to the “Dreamers” category of immigrants, the challengers argued that there is little if any chance that the Supreme Court will agree to review that issue on the merits, at least while the challenge to the Arizona policy is still in a preliminary stage in federal courts.

In addition, the new brief argued that Arizona officials were wrong in contending that the Ninth Circuit had taken a mistaken view of when federal immigration policy displaces state policies such as the driver’s license denial.  The Ninth Circuit actually based its temporary decision against the license denial solely on its finding that the challengers are likely to be able to ultimately show that the policy discriminates against them.

Under Arizona’s long-standing policy, it has denied driver’s licenses to anyone who could not provide evidence that he was in the country legally.  Immigrants with work permits, however, have been allowed to obtain licenses.   After the Obama administration gave the “Dreamers” a temporary right to stay in the United States and seek jobs with federally issued work permits, Arizona changed its policy to exclude that group from eligibility to drive legally.

There is no set timetable for either Justice Kennedy or the full Court to rule on the Arizona application, but an order is expected soon.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court turns down Arizona on immigrant issue, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 17, 2014, 12:43 PM),