- On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the Trump administration to end its practice of expelling unaccompanied migrant children at the southern border.
- That practice was part of a larger policy blocking all southern-border migrants from claiming asylum and entering the United States in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The expulsion of single adults and families are not affected by this order, but Sullivan did seem to express a willingness to cast aside that aspect of the policy, as well.
- The Trump administration has indicated that it will appeal Sullivan’s decision, but for now, his ruling remains in effect.
Trump Admin. Adopts “Public Health” Expulsion Policy
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the Trump administration cannot turn away unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum at the United States southern border.
The practice has been employed by the administration since March, the same time much of the United States first began going into coronavirus lockdowns. In fact, this practice is part of a larger policy the administration adopted after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an emergency order related to the coronavirus on March 20.
That order, signed by CDC Director Robert Redfield, stated that the U.S. government is allowed to temporarily block noncitizens from entering the US “when doing so is required in the interest of public health.”
Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary, then announced three new measures he cited as necessary through the CDC’s order.
First, the U.S. would begin sending anyone who illegally crossed the border back to their home countries without the ability to claim asylum. Second, the country would suspend processing undocumented migrants at legal ports of entry. Third, it would close the legal entry points along the Mexican and Canadian borders to tourism.
From March through the end of September, the administration used that policy to turn away nearly 200,000 migrants. That includes more than 13,000 children who were traveling alone, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, one of four organizations that brought a lawsuit against the administration.
Judge Pauses “Public Health” Expulsions
District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s Wednesday decision was largely a win for the ACLU and immigrant rights groups.
In his ruling, Sullivan said while the CDC’s emergency order does allow the Trump administration to prohibit noncitizens from entering the country, that doesn’t then give the administration the legal standing to expel migrant children.
Under existing U.S. law, unaccompanied migrant children must be treated differently than adults or even families. In fact, they’re given special protections that require them to be placed in shelters and provided an opportunity to voice their asylum claims.
Sullivan’s ruling only applies to unaccompanied children. The Trump administration will still be able to turn away adults and families by citing COVID concerns outlined in the CDC’s order.
Nonetheless, Sullivan did seem to question the legality of the administration’s policy in full. While he said that the administration had been granted “extraordinary” authority by the CDC, he also said that authority is still “distinguishable” from the claim that it gives the administration full rights to turn away migrants.
Immigration Advocate Cheer, Trump Admin. Appeals
“Today’s ruling is a critical step in halting the Trump administration’s unprecedented and illegal attempt to expel children under the thin guise of public health,” ACLU Lawyer Lee Gelernt said of Sullivan’s decision in a statement on Wednesday.
Karla Marisol Vargas, a lawyer for the Texas Civil Rights Project, which was also represented in the suit, commended the ruling in a similar statement, noting that the case could carry over into a Biden administration.
“The Trump administration cannot weaponize a pandemic to destroy long-established protections for children with a shadow system of zero accountability,” she said. “We will continue to keep this administration and the next, in check.”
For their part, other immigrant advocates have argued that the U.S. has the ability to safely give protection to vulnerable immigrants while also addressing public health concerns. For example, the shelters unaccompanied migrant children will now go to are capable of adopting social distancing guidelines. Likewise, the number of migrants in border facilities has fallen dramatically since spring of last year.
Late Wednesday night, the Trump administration signaled that it would appeal Sullivan’s ruling, according to AZ Central.
Following that decision, Homeland Security spokesperson Chase Jennings painted Sullivan as an “activist judge.”
“[Sullivan] has demanded that illegal aliens be introduced into the United States in the tens of thousands, spread across the country on planes and busses, and cause the overflow of community hospitals, particularly at the border,” Jennings said.
Immigration advocates have argued that the Trump administration’s policy actually put Border Patrol agents more at risk because, under the policy, those agents needed to make arrangements so that migrant children would be able to fly back to their home countries.
Still, top border officials have argued that because of the pandemic, public health law needs to be prioritized over immigration laws.
For now, however, they must abide by Sullivan’s ruling. While the Justice Department did ask for Sullivan to stay the order pending an appeal, that request has been denied.
See what others are saying: (AZ Central) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Federal Court Throws Out Alabama Congressional Map, Citing Racial Gerrymandering
The judges ruled that the Republican-held legislature gerrymandered the map so the state only had one Black-majority district despite Black residents composing 27% of the state’s population.
Alabama Ordered to Redraw Map
A panel of federal judges tossed Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ruling that the current version significantly weakens the voting power of Black residents.
In their decision, the three judges noted that while about 27% of Alabamians are Black, the map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census was gerrymandered to leave just one of the state’s seven districts with a Black majority.
“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law.”
As a result, the panel also ordered state lawmakers to redraw their map so that it includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”
The legislature was given 14 days to redo their map before they appoint a special master to do so.
Ongoing Legal Battles
Shortly after the ruling, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.”
According to reports, the matter could ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether lawmakers can draw maps that are gerrymandered along racial lines.
The high court ruled in 2019 that federal courts do not have the power to block congressional maps that are gerrymandered to skew districts in a partisan manner unless a state’s constitution explicitly prohibits such gerrymandering. The justices did keep parts of the Voting Rights Act that ban racial or ethnic gerrymandering, which the federal panel claimed was the case in Alabama.
Alabama’s congressional map is not the only one drawn by Republicans that has been thrown out in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ohio’s Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw a map that would have given Republicans 12 congressional seats and Democrats just three despite the fact that recently the GOP has only won about 55% of the popular vote statewide.
The state’s high court ruled that the map clearly violated a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (AL.com)
Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Cases at Harvard and UNC
The decision to take up the two cases marks the first time affirmative action will go before the high court’s latest conservative-majority bloc.
SCOTUS Takes on Race-Conscious Admissions, Again
The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will again consider whether race-conscious admissions programs at universities are legal in two cases that could have serious implications for affirmative action.
The two lawsuits center around admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), both of which were brought by the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.
The Harvard case started in 2014 with a lawsuit that claimed the school discriminated against Asian American students by effectively creating a quota for their admission. It also alleged the school a subjective standard to measure personality traits like likability, courage, and kindness.
The Ivy League school denied the allegations, claiming the challengers used incorrect statistical analysis and broadly arguing that race-conscious policies are legal.
In the case against UNC, the group alleged that the school discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.
The university, for its part, argued that its policies create more diversity among its student body, also echoing Harvard’s argument that such rules are legal under decades of Supreme Court precedents.
Past Precedent Up in the Air
Lower courts ruled in favor of both schools, finding they did indeed comply with Supreme Court decisions.
But in taking up these two cases, the high court’s conservative majority will now examine whether race-conscious admissions are legal at all. The move could decide the future of affirmative action and undermine more than four decades of precedent on the use of race in college admissions.
The last two times the high court took up cases regarding affirmative action, the justices upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious programs by slim majorities. Now, those majorities have been replaced by a conservative bloc that includes three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.
According to reports, the justices will likely hear the cases in October.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress
The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.
Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.
“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”
“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.
The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban.
“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”
While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.
But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.
The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic.
The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges.
Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban
In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.
Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.
According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.
In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.
“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”
Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.
The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.