After a run of extraordinarily bad luck, the Obama administration — and the nearly 5 million immigrants who hope to benefit from new immigration policies blocked by a lower court’s order — finally caught a break in the Supreme Court.
To explain, last February a federal trial judge with a history of advocacy on behalf of harsher immigration policies halted policy changes President Obama announced last fall that would permit millions of undocumented immigrants to temporarily remain in the country and work openly. Moreover, while the Justice Department made two attempts to convince a federal appeals court to reinstate the programs, both appeals court cases were heard by two especially conservative judges. As a result, the policies have remained in limbo for months.
Though the solicitor general raced to file a petition asking the justices to hear this case, the outcome of the case could be determined as much by the calendar as by the law. If the justices consider that petition in a timely manner, then it is likely that the Court will hear this case during its present term and hand down a decision in June. Texas, the lead state challenging the new immigration policies, however, asked the justices to effectively delay their consideration of the petition by 30 days. Were the Court to grant this motion, then it is likely that they would not decide the case on the merits until June of 2017 — months after President Obama leaves office.
The Obama administration, and the immigrants who are depending upon them, in other words, are not out of the woods. But they’ve cleared a major hurdle that could have halted the new policies for at least one additional year.
If the justices ultimately decide to take the case, the administration has good reason to be optimistic. In the Court’s last major immigration case, two Republican members of the Court — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy — broke with their three fellow conservatives to side with the Obama administration.