U.S. Supreme Court strikes down states’ challenge to federal deportation priorities

In an 8-1 vote, the court determined that states are not in a position to oppose federal detention and deportation powers.

By Glorie MartinezJune 26, 2023 4:15 pm,

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lawsuit by Texas and Louisiana last week that tried to challenge the deportation priorities set by the Biden administration.

The Texas v. Biden case arose in response to a federal memo instructing immigration agents to prioritize the deportation of convicted felons and public safety risks. The states sued the Biden administration last year, claiming those orders were illegal.

Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas Law School, joined the Standard to tell us more about what the decision means for immigration policy. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: It can be pretty surprising for folks when what’s been deemed a very conservative Supreme Court gives a Democratic administration a win. But this was an 8-1 decision, something that justices thought was pretty cut and dry. 

Denise Gilman: Right. It seems that way, yes. 

Was the ruling that Texas and Louisiana don’t even have standing?

That’s exactly right. Essentially, the court said that states can’t jump into the mix and ask the federal government to deport people, and that the states really are not in a position to challenge the federal government’s decisions regarding detention and deportation. 

This has been something that’s been tested before, but what were the arguments made by Texas and Louisiana? Why did they think that they had a case here? 

Well, they alleged that there were costs to the states, both in holding on to individuals that they expected that immigration authorities would come to pick up after they’d had interactions with the criminal justice system, and a broader harm in the idea that there would be individuals who should be in detention who would instead be at liberty in the states and that they might engage in criminal activity. 

Both of those are pretty far flung in terms of really predicting any absolute concrete harm. But in fact, the Supreme Court actually said that doesn’t even really matter because in the first place, states can’t say that the federal government should detain or deport people. That’s just not something that a state has the right to ask for.

Aside from any impact on the states, detention and deportation powers are really something that goes to the individual impacted and to the federal government’s decision. 

As we’ve talked about before, this is really something that falls under the purview of the federal government. The Supreme Court seems to have given the president in particular a lot of power and discretion there. Did this ruling leave an opening that seemed like justices said, “we’re not saying we can never hear decisions like this, but this one didn’t meet the bar?”

That’s right. The court really didn’t speak much, frankly, to whether or not the federal government does have broad discretion. They just said the states can’t challenge that discretion here. There’s just no interest, then, for the states in this.

But, yes, the decision is definitely very narrow and the court makes that quite clear and says that there might be instances where states could come in to challenge a rule about certain decisions that the federal government might be making in the immigration context. For example, how long to detain somebody, not just the initial decision to detain or deport them. 

The court also left open the idea that there could be challenges to federal government decisions that would actually grant some kind of affirmative benefit to migrants, aside from just withholding the enforcement actions of detention or deportation. So, it is definitely a narrow decision, but still, it suggests that there are limits on these lawsuits that states are bringing against every action that the federal government takes in the migration realm. 

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