Supreme Court roundup: Latest health care decisions


The Trump administration can move forward with expanding a rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants to remain in the United States if they receive health care assistance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote.

The current U.S. Supreme Court justices. Courtesy Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The Feb. 21 order allows the administration to broaden the so-called “public charge rule” while legal challenges against the expanded regulation continue in the lower courts. The Supreme Court’s decision, which lifts a preliminary injunction against the expansion, applies to enforcement only in Illinois, where a district court blocked the revised rule from moving forward in October 2019. The Supreme Court’s measure follows another 5-4 order in January, in which justices lifted a nationwide injunction against the revised rule.

Under the long-standing public charge rule, immigration officials can refuse to admit immigrants into the United States or can deny them permanent legal status if they are deemed likely to become a public charge. Previously, immigration officers considered cash aid, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or long-term institutionalized care, as potential public charge reasons for denial.

The revised regulation allows officials to consider previously excluded programs in their determination, including nonemergency Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and several housing programs. Use of these programs for more than 12 months in the aggregate during a 36-month period may result in a “public charge” designation and lead to green card denial.

Eight legal challenges were immediately filed against the rule changes, including a complaint issued by 14 states. At least five trial courts have since blocked the measure, while appeals courts have lifted some of the injunctions and upheld enforcement.

In its Jan. 27 order lifting the nationwide injunction, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote that nationwide injunctions are being overused by trial courts with negative consequences.

“The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them. Whether framed as injunctions of ‘nationwide,’ ‘universal,’ or ‘cosmic’ scope, these orders share the same basic flaw – they direct how the defendant must act toward persons who are not parties to the case,” he wrote. “It has become increasingly apparent that this court must, at some point, confront these important objections to this increasingly widespread practice. As the brief and furious history of the regulation before us illustrates, the routine issuance of universal injunctions is patently unworkable, sowing chaos for litigants, the government, courts, and all those affected by these conflicting decisions.”

In the court’s Feb. 21 order lifting the injunction in Illinois, justices gave no explanation for overturning the lower court’s injunction. However, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a sharply-worded dissent, criticizing her fellow justices for allowing the rule to proceed.

“In sum, the government’s only claimed hardship is that it must enforce an existing interpretation of an immigration rule in one state – just as it has done for the past 20 years – while an updated version of the rule takes effect in the remaining 49,” she wrote. “The government has not quantified or explained any burdens that would arise from this state of the world.”

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