The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the Trump administration doesn’t have to turn over a massive load of documents relating to the decision to phase out the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty, and delivered another spanking to a California court that’s repeatedly ruled against President Trump.
In an unsigned opinion, the justices said the judge was too hasty in ordering the documents to be turned over to anti-Trump activists who are suing to try to derail the DACA phaseout.
“The district court may not compel the government to disclose any document that the government believes is privileged without first providing the government with the opportunity to argue the issue,” the high court said in the opinion.
A number of organizations across the country sued after the Trump administration in early September said it was phasing out the DACA program, which President Barack Obama created by executive action in 2012, and which is protecting nearly 700,000 illegal immigrant Dreamers.
As part of the lawsuit, the groups demanded to know what materials then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke was looking at when she made the decision. The request also included materials her advisors were looking at when they gave her their own opinions.
Trump administration lawyers had balked at that, saying it went far beyond what the Administration Procedures Act required.
But more fundamentally, the Justice Department argued, since DACA was a use of discretionary presidential powers, rescinding the program is also discretionary and can’t be reviewed by the courts.
The government turned over 256 pages of documents it said informed Ms. Duke’s decision, but the immigrant-rights activists demanded more, believing there is evidence that could undermine the phaseout within those materials.
Judge William Alsup, a Clinton appointee, ruled with the immigration activists that all the materials must be turned over, and his ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the justices on Wednesday said the courts skipped a few steps.
They ordered the case be sent back to Judge Alsup with instructions that he first decide whether the government is right that revoking DACA can’t be reviewed.
They also said Judge Alsup was wrong to refuse to stay his own ruling while the case proceeded.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the justices for curtailing a runaway court.
“Make no mistake, this was a crucially important ruling, and the fact it was granted by a unanimous Supreme Court cannot be overstated. We will continue to defend the Trump Administration’s lawful actions,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement.
Even as the justices were ruling in Washington, Judge Alsup was holding a hearing in California where DACA recipients and their backers were asking the judge to put a stop to the president’s phaseout.
“Americans across the country agree overwhelmingly that we must protect the Dreamers. Because the government will not do what’s right, we’re asking the courts to hold the government to its promises,” said Ethan Dettmer, a lawyer representing the Dreamers.
Left without much power in Congress, Mr. Trump’s political enemies have rushed to the courts instead, suing over everything from his voter integrity commission to his immigration policy to his decision this month to cut the size of some national monuments.
And while lower courts have been sympathetic to the anti-Trump forces, the Supreme Court has proved to be a blockade to their efforts.
In one major case earlier this month the justices allowed the president’s travel ban policy to go into effect, overtaking yet another ruling by the 9th Circuit.