Department of Homeland Security et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al.

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

No. 18-587. Argued November 12, 2019--Decided June 18, 2020 1

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a memorandum announcing an immigration relief program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows certain unauthorized aliens who arrived in the United States as children to apply for a two-year forbearance of removal. Those granted such relief become eligible for work authorization and various federal benefits. Some 700,000 aliens have availed themselves of this opportunity.

   Two years later, DHS expanded DACA eligibility and created a related program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). If implemented, that program would have made 4.3 million parents of U. S. citizens or lawful permanent residents eligible for the same forbearance from removal, work eligibility, and other benefits as DACA recipients. Texas, joined by 25 other States, secured a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of both the DACA expansion and DAPA. The Fifth Circuit upheld the injunction, concluding that the program violated the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which carefully defines eligibility for benefits. This Court affirmed by an equally divided vote, and the litigation then continued in the District Court.

   In June 2017, following a change in Presidential administrations, DHS rescinded the DAPA Memorandum, citing, among other reasons, the ongoing suit by Texas and new policy priorities. That September, the Attorney General advised Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke that DACA shared DAPA’s legal flaws and should also be rescinded. The next day, Duke acted on that advice. Taking into consideration the Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court rulings and the Attorney General’s letter, Duke decided to terminate the program. She explained that DHS would no longer accept new applications, but that existing DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months could apply for a two-year renewal. For all other DACA recipients, previously issued grants of relief would expire on their own terms, with no prospect for renewal.

   Several groups of plaintiffs challenged Duke’s decision to rescind DACA, claiming that it was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and infringed the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. District Courts in California (Regents, No. 18–587), New York (Batalla Vidal, No. 18–589), and the District of Columbia (NAACP, No. 18–588) all ruled for the plaintiffs. Each court rejected the Government’s arguments that the claims were unreviewable under the APA and that the INA deprived the courts of jurisdiction. In Regents and Batalla Vidal, the District Courts further held that the equal protection claims were adequately alleged, and they entered coextensive nationwide preliminary injunctions based on the conclusion that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their APA claims. The District Court in NAACP took a different approach. It deferred ruling on the equal protection challenge but granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their APA claim, finding that the rescission was inadequately explained. The court then stayed its order for 90 days to permit DHS to reissue a memorandum rescinding DACA, this time with a fuller explanation of the conclusion that DACA was unlawful. Two months later, Duke’s successor, Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, responded to the court’s order. She declined to disturb or replace Duke’s rescission decision and instead explained why she thought her predecessor’s decision was sound. In addition to reiterating the illegality conclusion, she offered several new justifications for the rescission. The Government moved for the District Court to reconsider in light of this additional explanation, but the court concluded that the new reasoning failed to elaborate meaningfully on the illegality rationale.

   The Government appealed the various District Court decisions to the Second, Ninth, and D. C. Circuits, respectively. While those appeals were pending, the Government filed three petitions for certiorari before judgment. Following the Ninth Circuit affirmance in Regents, this Court granted certiorari.

Held: The judgment in No. 18–587 is vacated in part and reversed in part; the judgment in No. 18–588 is affirmed; the February 13, 2018 order in No. 18–589 is vacated, the November 9, 2017 order is affirmed in part, and the March 29, 2018 order is reversed in part; and all of the cases are remanded.

No. 18–587, 908 F. 3d 476, vacated in part and reversed in part; No. 18–588, affirmed; and No. 18–589, February 13, 2018 order vacated, November 9, 2017 order affirmed in part, and March 29, 2018 order reversed in part; all cases remanded.

  The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV, concluding:

  1. DHS’s rescission decision is reviewable under the APA and is within this Court’s jurisdiction. Pp. 9–13.

   (a) The APA’s “basic presumption of judicial review” of agency action, Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U. S. 136, 140, can be rebutted by showing that the “agency action is committed to agency discretion by law,” 5 U. S. C. §701(a)(2). In Heckler v. Chaney, the Court held that this narrow exception includes an agency’s decision not to institute an enforcement action. 470 U. S. 821, 831–832. The Government contends that DACA is a general non-enforcement policy equivalent to the individual non-enforcement decision in Chaney. But the DACA Memorandum did not merely decline to institute enforcement proceedings; it created a program for conferring affirmative immigration relief. Therefore, unlike the non-enforcement decision in Chaney, DACA’s creation—and its rescission—is an “action [that] provides a focus for judicial review.” Id., at 832. In addition, by virtue of receiving deferred action, 700,000 DACA recipients may request work authorization and are eligible for Social Security and Medicare. Access to such benefits is an interest “courts often are called upon to protect.” Ibid. DACA’s rescission is thus subject to review under the APA. Pp. 9–12.

   (b) The two jurisdictional provisions of the INA invoked by the Government do not apply. Title 8 U. S. C. §1252(b)(9), which bars review of claims arising from “action[s]” or “proceeding[s] brought to remove an alien,” is inapplicable where, as here, the parties do not challenge any removal proceedings. And the rescission is not a decision “to commence proceedings, adjudicate cases, or execute removal orders” within the meaning of §1252(g). Pp. 12–13.

  2. DHS’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious under the APA. Pp. 13–26.

   (a) In assessing the rescission, the Government urges the Court to consider not just the contemporaneous explanation offered by Acting Secretary Duke but also the additional reasons supplied by Secretary Nielsen nine months later. Judicial review of agency action, however, is limited to “the grounds that the agency invoked when it took the action.” Michigan v. EPA, 576 U. S. 743, 758. If those grounds are inadequate, a court may remand for the agency to offer “a fuller explanation of the agency’s reasoning at the time of the agency action,” Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation v. LTV Corp., 496 U. S. 633, 654 (emphasis added), or to “deal with the problem afresh” by taking new agency action, SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U. S. 194, 201. Because Secretary Nielsen chose not to take new action, she was limited to elaborating on the agency’s original reasons. But her reasoning bears little relationship to that of her predecessor and consists primarily of impermissible “post hoc rationalization.” Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U. S. 402, 420. The rule requiring a new decision before considering new reasons is not merely a formality. It serves important administrative law values by promoting agency accountability to the public, instilling confidence that the reasons given are not simply convenient litigating positions, and facilitating orderly review. Each of these values would be markedly undermined if this Court allowed DHS to rely on reasons offered nine months after the rescission and after three different courts had identified flaws in the original explanation. Pp. 13–17.

   (b) Acting Secretary Duke’s rescission memorandum failed to consider important aspects of the problem before the agency. Although Duke was bound by the Attorney General’s determination that DACA is illegal, see 8 U. S. C. §1103(a)(1), deciding how best to address that determination involved important policy choices reserved for DHS. Acting Secretary Duke plainly exercised such discretionary authority in winding down the program, but she did not appreciate the full scope of her discretion. The Attorney General concluded that the legal defects in DACA mirrored those that the courts had recognized in DAPA. The Fifth Circuit, the highest court to offer a reasoned opinion on DAPA’s legality, found that DAPA violated the INA because it extended eligibility for benefits to a class of unauthorized aliens. But the defining feature of DAPA (and DACA) is DHS’s decision to defer removal, and the Fifth Circuit carefully distinguished that forbearance component from the associated benefits eligibility. Eliminating benefits eligibility while continuing forbearance thus remained squarely within Duke’s discretion. Yet, rather than addressing forbearance in her decision, Duke treated the Attorney General’s conclusion regarding the illegality of benefits as sufficient to rescind both benefits and forbearance, without explanation. That reasoning repeated the error in Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association of the United States, Inc. v. State Farm— treating a rationale that applied to only part of a policy as sufficient to rescind the entire policy. 463 U. S. 29, 51. While DHS was not required to “consider all policy alternatives,” ibid., deferred action was “within the ambit of the existing” policy, ibid.; indeed, it was the centerpiece of the policy. In failing to consider the option to retain deferred action, Duke “failed to supply the requisite ‘reasoned analysis.’ ” Id., at 57.

  That omission alone renders Duke’s decision arbitrary and capricious, but it was not the only defect. Duke also failed to address whether there was “legitimate reliance” on the DACA Memorandum. Smiley v. Citibank (South Dakota), N. A., 517 U. S. 735, 742. Certain features of the DACA policy may affect the strength of any reliance interests, but those features are for the agency to consider in the first instance. DHS has flexibility in addressing any reliance interests and could have considered various accommodations. While the agency was not required to pursue these accommodations, it was required to assess the existence and strength of any reliance interests, and weigh them against competing policy concerns. Its failure to do so was arbitrary and capricious. Pp. 17–26.

  The Chief Justice, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Kagan, concluded in Part IV that respondents’ claims fail to establish a plausible inference that the rescission was motivated by animus in violation of the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 27–29.

 Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV. Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and Sotomayor, J., joined as to all but Part IV. Sotomayor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, concurring in the judgment in part, and dissenting in part. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which Alito and Gorsuch, JJ., joined. Alito, J., and Kavanaugh, J., filed opinions concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

1 Together with No. 18–588, Trump, President of the United States, et al. v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People et al., on certiorari before judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and No. 18–589, Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, et al. v. Batalla Vidal et al., on certiorari before judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.