(The Hill) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed an effort by Republican attorneys general to mount a legal defense of a Trump-era immigration restriction that the Biden administration has since rescinded and declined to defend in court.
The case was procedural in nature, but at its heart was Trump’s “public charge rule,” a 2019 measure that had imposed new restrictions on poorer immigrants to the U.S., until the Biden administration ended the policy last year.
The justices’ move Wednesday to dismiss the case leaves intact a lower appeals court ruling that rebuffed Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s (R) bid to step into the shoes of the Trump administration in hopes of reviving the public charge rule through a legal victory.
The court’s dismissal was somewhat unusual, since the justices heard arguments in the case earlier this term. Chief Justice John Roberts, in an opinion concurring with the court’s move, said the case ultimately raised too many legal questions that were beyond the scope of the issue the court had agreed to hear.
“It has become clear that this mare’s nest could stand in the way of our reaching the question presented on which we granted certiorari, or at the very least, complicate our resolution of that question,” wrote Roberts, who was joined by conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
Trump’s public charge rule sparked a number of legal challenges across the country that were in various stages of litigation when Biden took the White House after campaigning on a pledge to roll back Trump’s hard-line immigration stance. Each of five federal courts that addressed Trump’s policy either found it unlawful or in likely violation of the law.
The Trump-era rule directed federal immigration authorities to deny U.S. entry and green card requests of immigrants who were likely to become reliant on government assistance. It also broadened the criteria for determining the likelihood that an immigrant would become dependent on taxpayer-funded aid, otherwise known as a “public charge.”
Under the policy, an immigrant would be considered a public charge if they receive at least one public benefit for more than 12 months within any three-year period. These benefits include Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or public housing vouchers. The Trump administration rule also examined the likelihood of an immigrant using such benefits in the future.
Supporters of Trump’s rule, which updated an existing Clinton-era regulation, characterized it as a commonsense way to ensure that U.S.-bound immigrants are self-sufficient, and to prevent welfare programs from being overburdened. Led by Arizona, the Republican attorneys general contended that the rule stands to save states $1 billion a year.
President Biden’s Department of Homeland Security rapidly rescinded the rule in March 2021, forgoing the usual public comment period that often precedes the unwinding of major regulations and citing the negative court treatment of the program as its reason for ending it so swiftly.
Biden’s administration also abandoned the legal defense of the program that had been advanced by Trump’s Department of Justice, effectively allowing the legal preservation effort to die.
In response, Republican attorneys general sought to defend the measure in court by essentially taking up the now defunct legal position held by Trump’s Department of Justice. The Biden administration opposed this move, and the Supreme Court’s move on Wednesday lets stand the lower court rulings that rebuffed the Republican attorneys’ request to intervene.