The Supreme Court delivered a victory for affirmative action, but a blow to immigration on Thursday morning. Going into this year’s SCOTUS term, the media widely reported that the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia changed the dynamics of the court. Without an odd-numbered body, it became obvious that justices could remain deadlocked because no one could serve as the tie-breaker.
This is exactly what happened in U.S. v. Texas – a case looking at the legality of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which intended to shield as many as five million undocumented immigrants who are either the parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents. Through this measure, recipients could also legally work and the benefits extended to Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would have made more people eligible for protection. The 4-4 tie means that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that Obama exceeded his power will stand. Led by Texas, 26 states challenged Obama’s executive action, and the program has been halted since February 2015 through Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s preliminary injunction, according to The New York Times.
The inability of the court to reach a decision means that for now, a large chunk of undocumented immigrants will continue living in the shadows. “Today, the eight justices failed to act, and countless families will suffer as a consequence. U.S. citizen children like Sophie Cruz will continue to live in daily fear that their mom or dad won’t be there one day to kiss them goodnight. And immigrant entrepreneurs like Cris Mercado won’t be able to reach their full potential,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of National Immigration Law Center, in a statement.
The case reinforces why the 2016 presidential election – where anti-immigrant, anti-Latino sentiment sentiment has become a cornerstone of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign – is crucial. As the SCOTUS Blog notes, whoever wins the presidency can elect a ninth justice to break the tie, because as it stands, the court has not set a precedent. While Clinton is already looking at this case as a way to bolster her campaign, Trump has yet to speak out on it.
When he addressed the public, President Obama expressed his disappointment, but he also tried to provide a glimmer of hope by emphasizing how DAPA can still win. While it’s difficult to nominate a Supreme Court justice in an election year, Obama remained critical of the senate’s lack of urgency, especially when it came to his choice for the court, Merrick Garland. The most impactful part of his speech, however, came when he spoke about how “diversity is an important value in our society.” Check out his full statements below:
Already groups are mobilizing. Democracy for America, for example, joined the #Not1More campaign, which demands that Obama end all deportations to counteract this decision. “We stand with the #Not1More movement and all those calling on President Obama, both before and after today’s decision, to establish a moratorium on all deportations and stop playing a role in the unjust separation of families until Congress enacts the reforms necessary to create a humane immigration system,” said Democracy for America’s Executive Director Charles Chamberlain in a statement. Earlier this year, Reuters reported that ICE planned its largest immigration raid through a month-long series of raids in May and June to repatriate hundreds of Central American mothers and children who have been told to leave the United States.
At the very least, today offers some good news in the form of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, where in a 4-3 vote, the SCOTUS upheld affirmative action. After being rejected by the University of Texas at Austin, Abigail Fisher sued the school because of their admissions process. The school is required to accept any student who ranks in the top 10 percent of their high school class, but they also look at other factors – including race – which is how Fisher believes she came to be discriminated against.
Though Justice Samuel Alito called the practice “affirmative action gone berserk,” at least one justice has admitted to benefitting from affirmative action. In 1994, Sonia Sotomayor said, “I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby. I am Puerto Rican, born and raised in the south Bronx. My test scores were not comparable to my colleagues at Princeton and Yale. Not so far off so that I wasn’t able to succeed at those institutions.”
Pew Research reports that since 1993, the number of Latinos aged 18 to 24 attending two- or four-year colleges has tripled. Enrollment went from 728,000 in 1993 to 2.2 million in 2013. While it’s not immediately clear how much affirmative action contributed to this number, it definitely contributed to this jump.