Summary of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on DACA
By Valentina de Fex, Immigrants’ Rights Legal Fellow, ACLU of Utah
In a 5-4 decision on June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a program enacted during the Obama administration that protects over 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and (in part) Sonia Sotomayor. This opinion was a powerful victory for Dreamers and activists whose advocacy led to the creation of DACA and the continued fight against this administration’s efforts to dismantle the program.
• The Supreme Court’s decision was mainly based on a technical point: that the legal reasoning to rescind DACA put forward by the Trump administration in a September 2017 memo did not follow the law that governs administrative agencies.
• The majority of the Court held that the 2017 rescission memorandum, authored by Elaine Duke, the
former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, represented an “arbitrary and capricious” deviation
from prior precedent because it failed to provide adequate reasons as to why the agency was ending the program.
• The Court argued the Trump administration failed to distinguish between two aspects of the DACA program, the “benefits” (granting a work permit) and “forbearance” (the agency’s decision to exercise its discretion to not deport someone). Because the Obama administration’s initial June 2012 memo
enacting DACA focused heavily on forbearance, and the rescission memo did not mention it at
all, this oversight was sufficient, in the eyes of the Court, to make the Duke memo “arbitrary
• The Court did not decide whether ending DACA itself was legal, but rather focused on how the
administration ended the program. This is how Chief Justice Roberts explained the Court’s reasoning in
the majority opinion: “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. The
wisdom of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ We address only whether the agency complied
with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
• The Court also noted that the Duke memo failed to discuss or consider the “reliance interest” of the
community in the DACA program. Reliance interest evaluates how changes to the program would
affect hundreds of thousands of people protected by DACA, plus their livelihoods, families, and
communities. In April, supporters of DACA sent a briefing to the Supreme Court outlining the high
prevalence of DACA recipients and Dreamers among front-line healthcare workers battling COVID-19
pandemic. This example and many others reinforced the degree that the nation relies on DACA
individuals for public services, education, and healthcare. Throughout this section of the opinion You
can feel the impact of the inspirational “Home is Here” campaign and advocacy by Dreamers.
• The Court’s decision carefully avoided discussing the power of the executive (i.e. the President) and
limited the grounds of its decision to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA),
which governs the actions by administrative agencies.
• The majority decision is more complex because Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined all but one section of
the majority opinion. In the last section of the opinion, Chief Justice Roberts indicated that claims that
DACA was ended out of racial animus should be dismissed. Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor wrote that
she believes the Supreme Court was too quick dismiss these claims and permit the individuals that
brought the case to present evidence that the decision to rescind DACA was driven by racial animus
from President Trump. In bringing forth these claims, supporters of DACA argued that the President’s
statements about immigrants during his 2016 campaign as well as other statements made after he
assumed office demonstrated that this decision to end the program was based on racial animus.
Justice Sotomayor, reiterating criticisms raised from her dissent in Trump v. Hawaii, the travel ban
case, wrote a separate partial concurrence and dissent criticizing the majority opinion for removing
challenges to the DACA rescission under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Noting
the numerous anti-immigrant statements by the President presented by the plaintiffs in the case,
Justice Sotomayor criticized the Court’s dismissal of these claims, writing “Taken together, “the words
of the President” help to “create the strong perception” that the rescission decision was
“contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus.” In her opinion, the Plaintiffs should be
allowed to present these claims before the lower courts and let the lower courts decide this issue.
If you are a federal agency, you can’t decide something is illegal by publishing a flimsy legal argument that
ignores all the prior justifications. And later, when you realize your legal ground is shaky, try to justify your
position with new arguments while the Court is already reviewing the case. Today’s DACA decision by the
Supreme Court is another blow to the Trump administration’s reckless way of adopting immigration policy. It is also a good reminder of why smart and competent appointments to executive agencies matter, and the Trump administration’s system-wide failure to accomplish that goal. It’s a reminder that no agency is above the law.
Most of all, today’s decision is a reminder of the power and resilience of the Dreamers and activists that
have advocated for and defended their right to remain in this country.
What Comes Next?
The fight continues. The DACA cases have been remanded to the lower courts, but Supreme Court decision
also creates a pause where real solutions needs to happen in Congress. The Department of Homeland Security
has yet to articulate how it will implement this decision. This is a reminder that this decision only a first step
towards a real solution. Regardless of the federal government’s response, the ACLU of Utah remains in
solidarity with Dreamers, Activists, and allies who have tirelessly fought for and defended Dreamers’ right to
remain in the United States.
If you are interested in finding out more about DACA, this decision, and next steps, we recommend you listen
to and follow United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center. To contact the ACLU of Utah visit: www.acluutah.org
This summary was written by Valentina de Fex and is posted on Latinopia with the permission of the ACLU of Utah. Supreme Court Image in the public domain.