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Justices grant government’s stay request on “public charge” rule for Illinois

Supreme Court steps with the Library of Congress in the background

Last month the Supreme Court granted the federal government’s request for permission to enforce a rule known as the “public charge” rule, which prohibits noncitizens from receiving a green card if the government believes that they are likely to rely on public assistance. That ruling put on hold a pair of orders by a federal district court in New York, which had blocked the government from enforcing the rule anywhere in the nation. Tonight the justices, by a vote of 5-4, allowed the government to enforce the rule in Illinois while it appeals an order by a district court there that prohibited the government from enforcing the rule in that state.

Three members of the court’s liberal wing – Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan – indicated that they would have denied the government’s request. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a written dissent that was sharply critical of both the federal government and her colleagues. Sotomayor complained that the government had not met the test for a stay of the lower court’s decision: Its “only claimed hardship is that it must enforce an existing interpretation of an immigration rule in one State,” Sotomayor observed, “while an updated version of the rule takes effect in the remaining 49.” And more broadly, Sotomayor stressed, the government “has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited Court resources in each.”

Moreover, Sotomayor suggested, the Supreme Court itself “is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process” by being “too quick to grant the Government’s reflexiv[e] requests.” Sotomayor contrasted the court’s treatment of the government with the treatment of death-row inmates seeking stays of execution. “This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures ‘to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.’”

Tonight’s order means that the government will be able to enforce the “public charge” rule in Illinois while its appeal is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit – which is scheduled to hear oral argument in the case next week – and, if necessary, the Supreme Court.

This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices grant government’s stay request on “public charge” rule for Illinois, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 21, 2020, 8:45 PM),