Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. prodded the Obama administration Monday to explain President Obama’s 2014 immigration flip-flop, when Mr. Obama reversed himself and decided he did, after all, have powers to grant a tentative amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.
Mr. Obama had repeatedly denied he had that kind of power, then, after the 2014 election and Congress’ refusal to pass a bill he wanted, the president claimed a do-over and said he did have the power.
Chief Justice Roberts wondered what changed in Mr. Obama’s mind, and even read back one of Mr. Obama’s quotes to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. recounting the president saying he would be “ignoring the law” if he were to grant a broad stay of deportation to millions of illegal immigrants.
“What was he talking about?” the chief justice prodded.
Mr. Verrilli said Mr. Obama may have changed his mind after asking the Justice Department’s legal advisory branch to take a closer look at his powers.
“You know, what happened here is that the president and the secretary went to the Office of Legal Counsel and asked for an opinion about the scope of their authority to —the scope of this discretionary authority, and they got one. And they exercised it consistently with that and up to the limits of that and no further,” Mr. Verrilli said.
Immigrant rights activists had repeatedly told Mr. Obama he had authority to grant “deferred action” to millions of illegal immigrants, but the president shot those requests down, telling the activists he didn’t think he could defend that action in court.
But he reversed course in November 2014 and concluded he did have the power.
Under his policy, millions of illegal immigrant young adults and parents with children who do have legal status would be eligible for a three-year proactive stay of deportation and for work permits and taxpayer benefits, including driver’s licenses.
Texas and 25 other states sued, arguing the president overstepped his powers. Lower courts halted the amnesty, and cited Mr. Obama’s own words in their rulings.