President Barack Obama, with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, center, and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, speaks during a meeting with members of his economic team in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. | AP Photo
Democratic lawmakers are again marshaling overwhelming support for President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, whose future now hangs in the balance at the Supreme Court.
More than 200 Democrats are backing a new amicus brief that will be filed later Tuesday with the high court, arguing the controversial actions Obama took in November 2014 that could defer deportations and grant work permits to more than 4 million immigrants in the United States illegally are both legal and constitutional.
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The renewed effort from Democrats comes as House Republicans are also mulling whether to get involved in the high-stakes case. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that the House will vote on a resolution to allow lawmakers to file an amicus brief in Texas vs. United States, calling Obama’s executive actions a “direct attack on the Congress’ Article I powers under our Constitution.”
Now, Democrats are quickly trying to counter the GOP’s offensive against Obama’s actions.
The new amicus brief from Democrats also delves deeper into a new legal question that the Supreme Court will consider: whether Obama violated the “Take Care” clause, which essentially calls on the president to “take care” that laws are faithfully executed.
Democrats are insisting that Obama is not violating the “Take Care” clause because the executive actions are well within the authority of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose sprawling agency oversees immigration matters.
Because Congress sets aside a finite amount of money for deporting undocumented immigrants every year (that figure is generally estimated at 400,000 immigrants annually, while there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States), Homeland Security officials have to set priorities for who to deport with those limited resources. Obama’s executive actions lay out such priorities, and because Democrats believe doing so is within Johnson’s authority, it “by definition reflects the faithful execution of the law,” Democrats say.
The executive action “reflects the decision by [Johnson], acting within finite congressional appropriations insufficient to remove every removable noncitizen, to channel DHS’s enforcement efforts according to a set of removal priorities,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a draft of the brief obtained by POLITICO in advance of its release. “That is not a deviation from the obligation to faithfully execute the laws; rather, it is a fulfillment of it.”
The Supreme Court — which is operating with eight members after the death last month of Justice Antonin Scalia — will hear the immigration case on April 18. If there is a 4-4 tie, the lower court’s decision blocking the programs will stand or the case could be put on for reargument next term, in the hope a replacement for Scalia is seated then. Texas and the more than two dozen other states suing the Obama administration over the immigration initiatives have won three times in the lower courts.
“Republicans’ breathtaking obstruction has perpetuated an utterly broken immigration system that tears families apart, dishonors our values as Americans, and fails to meet the needs of our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a joint statement. “We are confident the Supreme Court will recognize the legality and necessity of the President’s actions to help bring our immigration system back into line with the values and needs of our country.”
Nearly 40 Senate Democrats signed onto the amicus brief, as did 186 House Democrats.
The new legal push was spearheaded by Democratic leadership, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). More than 200 Democratic lawmakers filed a separate friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in December, urging justices to hear the case.