The Supreme Court unveiled a 5-4 decision on Friday to allow the Trump administration to deny entry or green cards to immigrants based on a “wealth test,” claiming that low-income immigrants were likely to become a “public charge” and use social programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. All four justices nominated by Democrats voted against the case. Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the blistering dissent and accused the court’s conservatives of bias in favor of Trump.
Sotomayor said the administration has too quickly gone to the Supreme Court to appeal unfavorable decisions made by lower courts, and that by taking the cases, the Supreme Court is “putting a thumb on the scale in favor of” the president.
“Claiming one emergency after another, the government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited court resources in each,” Sotomayor wrote. “And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow.”
“It is hard to say what is more troubling,” she added. “That the government would seek this extraordinary relief seemingly as a matter of course, or that the Court would grant it.”
The Trump administration announced the implementation of the immigration rule this past summer, essentially changing the definition of a “public charge” to include even limited use of public services. In January, the Supreme Court ruled in another 5-4 decision to allow the rule in 49 states, but that decision did not affect Illinois which is governed by a separate judicial order. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, the rule will be implemented nationwide, allowing immigration officials to evaluate immigrants based on 20 factors, including use of public services and English language proficiency.
Defending the rule this past summer, acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli twisted the words written on the Statue of Liberty to explain the “wealth test,” saying, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
It used to be abnormal for the government to seek a stay from the Supreme Court before a case finished working its way through lower courts. But Trump, who has often used the courts in personal and business disputes, has used this remedy as president more than the Bush and Obama administrations combined. Sotomayor expressed concern about this very issue in September of last year, writing, “granting a stay pending appeal should be an ‘extraordinary’ act. Unfortunately, it appears the Government has treated this exceptional mechanism as a new normal.”
In her dissent on Friday, Sotomayor expressed fear about the precedent set by granting these stays. “I fear,” she wrote, “that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decision-making process that this court must strive to protect.”