2018: The Constitution, Federal Courts, and President Trump

2018 continued to be a tumultuous and troubling year for Americans who believe that our Constitution protects us from violations of free speech, free press, due process, equal protection under the law, and the arbitrary power of government to usurp the rule of law. In 2018, the federal courts demonstrated again that they serve as the safety valve, checking abuses of power by the executive branch of government, including notably President Donald Trump and his administration.

More than one thousand Americans from forty different states have joined together in declaring independence from the policies and practices of President Trump. They anticipated that President Trump and his administration would violate basic American values and are documenting the major federal lawsuits challenging the President and his administration.

Immigration: Supreme Court Maintains Ban on Proposed Asylum Restrictions

A few days before the Christmas holiday, the United States Supreme Court voted to maintain a ban on new immigration restrictions proposed by the Trump administration. The December 21 vote, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, blocked new rules that would limit applications for asylum by those seeking to enter the United States.

A decision by Judge Jon S. Tigar on November 19 imposed the nationwide injunction on the proposed restriction, which would affect asylum seekers entering the United States solely through “designated ports of entry.” Judge Tigar found that this proposed rule contravened the language of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which permitted asylum applications to be filed by immigrants who arrive in this country “whether or not at a designated port of arrival.”

Immigration: District Judge Declares New Asylum Restrictions Unlawful

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on December 17, 2018 blocked several Trump administration policies that made it more difficult for victims of gang and domestic violence to seek asylum in the United States. In a 107-page opinion, the Court rules that the policies are “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law” and orders the government to cease their implementation

Sanctuary Jurisdictions Win Another Court Challenge

In late November, a District Court judge handed a victory to defenders of immigrants’ rights in their challenge to Trump-era restrictions on criminal justice funding. Seven states and the City of New York had argued that new Department of Justice requirements for information-sharing and “access” to undocumented detainees in local facilities exceeded federal authority and violated states rights.

Since 2006, states and localities have been eligible to apply for federal funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (“JAG”) program for grants to support criminal justice programs in various categories, including law enforcement, crime prevention, mental health, victim and witness services, drug treatment and technology. These funds are allocated according to a formula based upon a particular jurisdiction’s population and violent crime statistics. On July 25, 2017, for the first time in the history of the program, the United States Department of Justice and the Attorney General (collectively “Defendants”) announced that they would be imposing three immigration-related conditions on applicants for JAG funds.

Immigration: Ninth Circuit Ruling Affirms Injunction Maintaining DACA

On September 5, 2017, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the government was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. That same day, then–Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke issued a memorandum confirming the change. Multiple lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s actions to terminate DACA were filed across the country. On January 9, 2018, Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction requiring the federal government to maintain the DACA program on a nationwide basis.

On November 8, 2018, the Ninth Circuit issued a decision (hereafter DACA II) affirming the lawfulness of the preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit first ruled that Acting Secretary Duke’s decision to rescind the DACA program is reviewable under the APA, because the Acting Secretary based the rescission of DACA solely on a belief that DACA was beyond the authority of DHS. It also ruled that INA Section 1252(g) does not deprive courts of jurisdiction to review the DACA rescission order.

Immigration: District Court Issues Restraining Order on Trump Effort to Limit Asylum

On November 9, 2018, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security published a Rule that placed an additional restriction on the right of asylum, namely that an asylum seeker would be ineligible for asylum if he or she entered the country in violation of a presidential Proclamation issued on or after that date. On the same day, President Trump issued a proclamation that suspended for 90 days the right of asylum seekers to enter the country across the U.S.-Mexico border except through officially designated ports of entry.

In response, various social service and legal organizations that assist immigrants filed a federal lawsuit in United States District Court (Northern District of California) against President Trump and others to seek a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the Rule from taking effect. On November 19, 2018, District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar issued a lengthy decision in which he scheduled a hearing on this matter for December 19, 2018, and imposed a nationwide TRO pending that hearing.

Travel Ban III: Supreme Court Reviews Travel Ban

On April 25, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments for the landmark case State Of Hawai’i And Ishmael Elshikh vs. Donald J. Trump, et al in which the State of Hawaii sued the federal government to stop the implementation of Executive Order No. 13,780. The executive order, which is titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”, is President Trump’s third attempt at a travel ban and it restricts the entry of foreign nationals from 6 specified Muslim countries and two non-Muslim majority nations  (Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad). Chad was later removed from the Travel Ban on April 11, 2018. It also suspends entrants from the United States refugee program for specified periods of time.

Update: Supreme Court Declines DACA Review

On February 26, 2018, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Trump Administration’s appeal to the decision for the DACA case in the Northern District of California. In an unusual step, called “certiorari before judgment,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) had not only appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, to review the Northern District of California’s decision, but simultaneously requested the Supreme Court to immediately take up the case, bypass the Ninth Circuit, and issue an emergency ruling on the merits. Certiorari before judgement has typically been used only in major cases involving national crises that require immediate resolution, such as in the cases Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, when President Harry Truman attempted to seize control of the U.S. Steel industry for the war effort in Korea, or U.S. v. Nixon when President Richard Nixon’s refused a special prosecutor’s subpoena to turn over White House tape recordings.