The US Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Trump administration from cancelling Obama-era protections against deportation for 700,000 immigrants.
The court said the administration’s attempt in 2017 to rescind a ban on deporting certain unauthorised immigrants who came to the US as children, known as “Dreamers”, was “arbitrary and capricious”.
While the Department of Homeland Security had the authority to cancel the 2012 rule implemented under Barack Obama, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the government had not followed proper procedure to do so, the court ruled.
Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of George W Bush, sided with the court’s four liberals in finding that the Trump administration had failed to follow proper administrative procedures when it sought to cancel DACA.
“The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts in the court’s opinion.
The ruling is the second time this week that liberals have secured significant victories at the Supreme Court, despite Mr Trump’s success in appointing two justices to the nine-member court since taking office.
On Monday, Chief Justice Roberts and Neil Gorsuch, one of Mr Trump’s appointees, sided with the liberal wing of the court in ruling that companies could not discriminate against gay and transgender people, a position opposed by the Trump administration.
Mr Trump assailed the court in a tweet shortly after the DACA ruling was handed down: “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”
“Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” he added.
The court’s decision on DACA did not foreclose the possibility that the Trump administration could seek to cancel the policy again, but it gave at least temporary respite to hundreds of thousands of people who have lived in the US for most of their lives.
Lisa Koop, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, said: “Today the Supreme Court affirmed that the integrity of the process matters and held this administration accountable. The DACA programme remains in place for now.”
Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell Law School, added: “The administration may try to terminate the DACA programme with a better justification, but that will take months or years.”
The Obama administration implemented DACA in 2012 as an executive branch policy following years of failed attempts by Congress to enact immigration reform.
After Mr Trump was elected, the justice department declared DACA illegal, and the Department of Homeland Security in September 2017 rescinded the policy.
The move was quickly challenged by an array of groups, leading to years of litigation that kept the programme in place as the case worked its way through the courts.
The decision on Thursday said DHS had failed to fully analyse the impact of the rescission, including “what if anything to do about the hardship [it would have on] DACA recipients”, the court said.
This raised “doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner”.
Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the court’s most conservative members, argued in opposing the decision that it would allow administrations to hobble their successors by making it difficult to undo policies enacted without any underlying legislation.
“Under the auspices of today’s decision, administrations can bind their successors by unlawfully adopting significant legal changes through Executive Branch agency memoranda,” he wrote.