A Supreme Court ‘no comment’ in Texas case is not acceptable

Supporters of immigration reform gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
Supporters of immigration reform gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this week. The Associated Press

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court seems likely to deadlock on a case of national importance, this one involving illegal immigration, presidential power and states’ authority.

No matter how you come down on those questions, we deserve an answer. And yet because of dysfunction in the U.S. Senate and House, the answer most likely will be a “no comment.”

House leaders won’t offer an acceptable compromise on immigration, bowing instead to the most strident conservatives in the GOP caucus, and worrying about backlash among some voters in an election year in which Republican presidential candidates have acted like demagogues on the issue.

Although a president’s executive power authority is not the ideal way to resolve weighty questions of immigration policy, President Barack Obama felt compelled to fill the vacuum created by congressional inaction on immigration. In 2014, he acted to defer deportation of roughly 4 million people who are in the country illegally but whose children are citizens or legal residents of the United States.

In response, Texas and 25 other states sued, contending that language in the president’s order could require the states to provide driver’s licenses and other services to undocumented immigrants.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, issued a nationwide injunction last year barring the administration from implementing the executive action. That single injunction, issued by one judge in one Texas border city, will stand as our national policy on immigration, unless the Supreme Court can break the 4-4 split created when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.

Based on reports of arguments at the Supreme Court earlier this week, the four remaining Republican-appointed justices were critical of Obama’s actions, while the four Democratic appointees evidently were seeking to uphold his authority.

Uncle Sam should not meddle in the question of whether states should issue licenses to undocumented residents, though California was right to face the reality that people drive, no matter their immigration status, and that all drivers should be licensed, so long as they pass driving tests. But that’s a side issue in the case, United States v. Texas. The broader issues involve whether Congress will do its job.

So far, House Speaker Paul Ryan is failing the country by not finding a compromise immigration policy that recognizes 11 million immigrants are here without authorization. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is failing the country by refusing to act on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat.