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Editorial: Immigration decision reinforces rule of law

The Detroit News

The void on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia hasn’t stopped it from issuing monumental decisions. Last week an equally divided court essentially froze President Barack Obama’s efforts to defer through executive action the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants in its ruling in United States v. Texas.

Any time federal law has the power to break up families, it’s a difficult issue to address, and certainly to resolve. This case is no different. But the court’s deadlock upholds the rule of law above a president’s to rewrite legislation unilaterally.

Obama has made his immigration deferment program — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA — one of his main priorities and he would have liked it to be a legacy after he leaves.

While the intention of his executive action is defensible, his penchant for disregarding the law is not. A coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, challenged the president’s plan, accusing him of ignoring the law and abusing his executive power.

Congress has laid out a thorough plan for helping people working here illegally achieve certain kinds of legal status. It’s not perfect, but it is the law.

Only Congress has the power to issue such broad-sweeping immigration laws, which, by the way, it should do. Immigration reform has been a worthy bipartisan goal for many years. This court ruling makes it likely the next president will also have to work through Congress to achieve major reforms, as he or she should.

The decision also reinforces federalism, a fundamental concept that protects the rights of states to govern in most areas how they choose. Too often the federal government usurps this power.

The appeals court sided with the state of Texas, which argued it would cost millions of dollars to subsidize drivers’ licenses for thousands of undocumented immigrants.

The administration’s lawyers argued that Texas could change it’s license system. But the appellate court ruled that it would challenge Texas’ sovereignty to create and enforce its own legal code, particularly over an issue entirely within the state’s power. Because of the tie at the Supreme Court level, the lower court ruling holds.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton signaled disappointment with the decision, which means she will likely attempt to revive DAPA if elected in November.

And the decision has only strengthened presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s commitment to close the southern border and deport undocumented immigrants — although he’s provided no specifics on how he would go about rounding up millions of people.

Had Justice Antonin Scalia been alive, the court’s ruling would have likely been 5-4, with a definite rebuke of executive overreach on immigration laws — another reminder of how critical it is that a moderate, rule of law justice is appointed to his vacancy.

This immigration decision will continue to play a significant role in the presidential campaign, and underscores once again the court’s vital role in our nation’s unrivaled process of checks and balances.