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Supreme Court rules against Trump's bid to end program shielding 'Dreamer' immigrants

The Supreme Court ruled against President Donald Trump on Thursday in a set of cases over his effort to end the Obama-era immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. 

The ruling will protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have been shielded from deportation and allowed to receive work permits under the program. There were about 700,000 DACA recipients at the time Trump ordered the program to wind down in September 2017. 

The 5-4 opinion was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, and joined by the court’s four liberals.  Roberts reasoned that the Trump administration’s termination of the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” in violation of federal law that governs administrative procedure. 

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. ‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern,'” Roberts wrote. 

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients,” Roberts added. “That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner.”

In a dissent joined by fellow conservatives Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the majority decision “must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision.”

“Today the majority makes the mystifying determination that this rescission of DACA was unlawful. In reaching that conclusion, the majority acts as though it is engaging in the routine application of standard principles of administrative law. On the contrary, this is anything but a standard administrative law case,” Thomas wrote. 

The ruling comes just days after the court ruled in favor of LGBT workers in a blockbuster gay rights case that held that employees may not be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gorsuch authored the opinion for the court in that case. He was joined by Roberts and the court’s liberals. The back-to-back wins for liberals are a surprising development from the court, which has 5-4 conservative majority.

The setback for  the Trump administration comes less than five months before the 2020 election, where the president appears poised to pivot back to immigration as a central campaign issue.

In a Fox News interview Wednesday night, Trump said he will “soon” be traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border to tout the construction of a border wall. “I’m going to be at the wall very soon. We’re going to celebrate over 200 [miles built],” Trump said.

“Today we prevailed on behalf of every Dreamer who has worked hard to help build our country — our neighbors, teachers, doctors, and first responders,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led a coalition of 20 states and D.C. defending DACA before the top court, said in a statement.

 “The highest court in our land saw through the Trump Administration’s illegal, baseless excuses. The court agreed: If you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a chance to get ahead,” Becerra said.

Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the decision was handed down that he “cried tears of joy.”

“These wonderful DACA kids and their families have a huge burden lifted off their shoulders. They don’t have to worry about being deported, they can do their jobs, and, I believe, I do believe this, someday, someday soon, they will be American citizens,” Schumer said. 

DACA, and the young immigrants it shields known as “Dreamers,” are broadly popular among the public, and Trump had shied away from arguing against the program as a matter of policy. 

A Politico/Morning Consult survey conducted earlier this month showed that a majority of those who voted for Trump in 2016 supported protecting Dreamers from deportation. Among registered voters overall, more than 75% said DACA recipients should be allowed to remain in the United States. 

Rather than challenge the program on policy grounds, Trump and attorneys for his administration have argued that former President Barack Obama lacked the legal authority to implement the program in the first place. 

On several occasions, Trump has floated the idea that he would seek a deal with Democrats on the immigration program if the Supreme Court allowed him to terminate it. 

“Rest assured that if the SC does what all say it must, based on the law, a bipartisan deal will be made to the benefit of all,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter last year, referring to the Supreme Court. 

The administration’s argument that Obama lacked the authority to implement DACA did not hold up in lower courts. Trump’s efforts to halt the program were stopped by courts in New York, Washington, D.C., and California. 

The cases are Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, No. 18-587, Donald Trump v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, No. 18-588 and Kevin McAleenan v. Martin Jonathan Batalla Vidal, No. 18-589.

— CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report. 

This is breaking news. Check back for updates. 

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