Supreme Court Lets DACA Stand : Politics Podcast : The NPR Politics Podcast The Supreme Court has extended a life-support line to some 650,000 so-called "Dreamers" on Thursday, allowing them to remain safe from deportation. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the decision was not about the Trump administration's authority to end the program, but rather about its "arbitrary" justification.

This episode: political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, and national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

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In 5-4 Decision, Supreme Court Lets DACA Stand

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In 5-4 Decision, Supreme Court Lets DACA Stand

In 5-4 Decision, Supreme Court Lets DACA Stand

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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VICTOR MANUEL: Hi. This is Victor Manuel, lead singer of Gluteus and the Hamstrings, here in Austin, Texas. We are patiently waiting until the end of social distancing for our next concert series. This podcast was recorded at...


2:04 p.m. on June 18, 2020.

MANUEL: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. Stay masked, and stay safe.


CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Working from home is really rough on the gluteus and hamstrings.

KURTZLEBEN: What kind of music do we think the Gluteus and the Hamstrings perform? Maybe they play string music.

JOHNSON: Oooo (ph).

KURTZLEBEN: Ha-ha. OK. All right. Hey there, everyone. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

JOHNSON: And I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.

KURTZLEBEN: And we are here today with big Supreme Court news yet again. In a 5-4 decision this morning, the court ruled that President Trump's cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which many listeners may know as DACA, that that violated the Administrative Procedure Act and that the program stands, at least for now. So before we dig into exactly what the court said, Franco, remind us what DACA is and just how big its impact is.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. DACA is an Obama-era program from back in 2012. It shields a group of qualified immigrants who were basically brought to the country illegally as children. There's about 700,000 immigrants that have DACA. And I'll just note that some of those are the parents of about 250,000 children born here in the U.S. So that's U.S. citizens. And it's a big deal for essentially that obvious reason, the hundreds of thousands of people with DACA no longer face at least the threat of deportation, at least not immediately. And President Trump, you know, based on the decision, could try again and, you know, end this program. And the chief justice said that. But that's really unlikely to happen this year, especially in an election year.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, let's dig into that. Carrie, what exactly did the justices say? Because as I understand it, this wasn't exactly a perfectly cut and dry, straightforward decision, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority. He was joined by the court's for liberals. He basically said, listen, everyone agrees the Department of Homeland Security can rescind DACA. The issue is how DHS did this under President Trump. And what he found and what the liberals found was that the way the Trump administration went about doing this was arbitrary and capricious, in part because DACA is two parts. First, the decision to defer deportation. And second, the ability to work and get benefits like Social Security. And DHS didn't consider both of those parts when it decided to wind down the program. The other thing the court majority said the Department of Homeland Security failed to consider was how many immigrants relied on this DACA program. None of that analysis was factored into the decision to wind the program down when the Trump administration tried to do it in 2017.

KURTZLEBEN: So, Carrie, to make sure I'm understanding here - they weren't getting at the acceptability of the program and whether or not the president can repeal this or rescind this. They were getting at just how he did it. Is that a fair assessment?

JOHNSON: Yes. John Roberts said we do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies, only that the procedure was faulty here in this case.

KURTZLEBEN: Like we said, this was a 5-4 decision. So there were four people dissenting. What did they say?

JOHNSON: Perhaps the most important language in the dissents came from Clarence Thomas. Justice Clarence Thomas. He said this program was unlawful from its inception in 2012, when the Obama administration did it. And therefore the court didn't need to go into all these gymnastics about the procedure to wind it down in the Trump era. Clarence Thomas said today's decision must be recognized for what it is - an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision. He says, this decision and any solution here must come from Congress, not the judges.

KURTZLEBEN: Franco, let's talk more about this, about the politics of this. I mean, it's worth noting that DACA and immigration reform, we see this pop up in a big way in Congress every so often. And it becomes a huge thing. There is appetite for reform. Both parties keep saying they want to get it done, but it never seems to get anywhere. What - why is that?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. DACA is definitely, like, the piece of the immigration puzzle that more sides are together than any other. They are the most sympathetic group because of the reasons we kind of laid out there. They were brought here as children, in many cases without their knowledge. Many times, if you were to send them back to their quote-unquote, "home country," they may not even know the language. And in the bigger picture of immigration, it is such an intractable issue. I've been covering this issue for a while in Washington and outside of Washington. And I really can't think of any other issue that really draws so many emotions and really divides people on both sides.

You know, and essentially, the two sides see the things from such different perspectives. Liberals, for example, take a more - I mean, arguably a more micro view of how this will impact their friends and neighbors in their community, how this will impact individual families. Conservatives, in a way, take a more macro perspective, looking at it from how it will impact bigger changes in society from an economic, from a jobs perspective. There's just so many emotions baked into these issues, from fear of change, competition, also - but also just about jobs, dignity and humanity.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. And I suppose rule of law also is another thing that comes up sometimes, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.


JOHNSON: Danielle, what do the polls say about this? Where's public opinion right now?

KURTZLEBEN: By and large, Americans favor allowing people who were brought here, who came here illegally when they were children - allowing them to have some sort of permanent legal status. This comes from a very new poll from the Pew Research Center. It was just conducted earlier this month. Three-quarters of Americans say they favor giving permanent legal status to people who came to America illegally when they were children. And yes, as Franco alluded to, 90% of Democrats agree with that. This is not controversial among Democrats. But interestingly, there is a huge partisan split, but Republicans still are more likely than not to say that they also favor it - 54% of Republicans or people who lean Republican said they also favor it compared to 43%. So about half. And I guess from that perspective, you can see why there is perpetual angst on Capitol Hill and sort of motions towards something happening but nothing quite happening, you know.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. There's a lot of desire to get something to happen, but - you know, and it's so hard to believe that something will happen, at least not in the near future.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, and on that note, we're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, we are going to talk more about the politics of this.


KURTZLEBEN: And we're back. And, Franco, I know that the president has been tweeting about today's decision. How has the White House been responding?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he certainly has been tweeting. He is not happy. He is lashing out against the Supreme Court. Barely an hour after the ruling, Trump fired off a couple tweets expressing this anger. He wrote, quote, "these horrible and 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." In a second tweet, President Trump asked whether people, quote, "get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn't like him." So he's really angry. You know, it's just interesting. You know, just building on what Carrie was saying, you know, Chief Justice John Roberts - who, by the way, was appointed by George W. Bush - you know, wrote the majority opinion - he said Trump does, again, have the power to end DACA. And Trump is saying, no, no, no, we need more conservative judges. He's calling for people to come out and vote in November. And he's, you know - it's at least implying that's the way to get these things done.

JOHNSON: You know, the funny thing about that to me is this is the second time that Chief Justice Roberts has basically said the administration might find a way to do what it wants to do, it just did it in a super sloppy way. First, with the U.S. Census case and now with this DACA case. So it's not so much that he disagrees with the policy goals of the Trump administration, he just says they can't get their act together.

ORDOÑEZ: And a lot of Trump supporters are saying and calling for him to do just that, to go back to the drawing board, to come up with another plan, to take John Roberts on his word. But the reality with the politics, you know, that certainly is possible but very unlikely to happen before the election.

KURTZLEBEN: Unlikely purely because of public opinion or because of practicalities? Why is that?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, a little bit of both. But, you know, I cover politics. I cover the White House. And while this is certainly a big loss for President Trump to lose this decision, it also kind of takes away a complicated political factor for him. He does not want to - and he has said this - he does not want to be the president known for deporting all of these immigrants, these very sympathetic group of immigrants that we have been talking about. He has talked about them, saying that he has a lot of heart for them and love for them. He doesn't want to be in that position. At the same time, he has a base, and he campaigned on getting rid of this program. So it's a dilemma for him. And this kind of removes that dilemma not only for him but for - also for Congress. But he's going to get more calls from his supporters to do something.

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Well, I mean, speaking of Congress and complicated politics, what kind of reactions have we seen from the Hill today? And how much does this complicate or uncomplicate life for congressional Republicans and Democrats?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it definitely will make things a bit easier for Congress. Democrats are definitely praising this decision and saying it's a good decision. You know, Democrats by and far, as you noted, are very much in support of this program. And Republicans, you know, there's so much on Republicans' plate right now that they are not necessarily wanting another massive issue to try to fight over because the discussion in the administration - and President Trump had said this as well, that he was waiting on the Supreme Court decision, expecting it to go more his way. And perhaps instead of, you know, starting a deportation process, maybe starting a wind-down process but, you know, but using it as kind of leverage against Congress to get something done. Now, we all know how difficult it is to get anything negotiated in Congress right now.

KURTZLEBEN: Understatement, yes.

ORDOÑEZ: Something like this would be - you know, it's beyond words.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, one last thing before we go. Let's get back to the Supreme Court. Carrie, there are still some big cases we're waiting for decisions on. Can you run down a few of those?

JOHNSON: Yeah, big cases, Danielle, one involving a Louisiana abortion law. And then a set of cases that concern the president's power - first, one that talks about whether Congress can subpoena President Trump's business and financial records, and a related case involving the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and whether he can get Trump's tax returns. Those are going to be two really big tests for this Supreme Court and for the presidency itself. And it's worth noting that the president really understands the power the Supreme Court has with his base. He just tweeted a little while ago that he's going to be releasing a new list of conservative Supreme Court nominees by September 1, 2020, before the election to try to confirm or let people know how important these issues are and try to get his base to - drum up his base to get out and vote.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, definitely something those voters care about very much. All right. Well, we will leave it there. We'll be back, of course, tomorrow with yet another NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

JOHNSON: I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.

KURTZLEBEN: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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