Justices allow 'Remain in Mexico' asylum policy to continue

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would allow the Trump administration to continue enforcing a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, despite lower court rulings that the policy probably is illegal.

The justices' order, over a dissenting vote by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, overturns a lower court order that would have blocked the policy, at least for people arriving at the border crossings in Arizona and California. The lower court order was to have taken effect on Thursday. Instead, the "Remain in Mexico" policy will remain in force while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts, probably at least through the end of President Donald Trump's term in January.

The next step for the administration is to file a formal appeal with the Supreme Court. But the justices may not even consider the appeal until the fall and, if the case is granted full review, arguments would not be held until early 2021.

The high court action is the latest instance of the justices siding with the administration to allow Trump's immigration policies to continue after lower courts had moved to halt them. Other cases include the travel ban on visitors from some largely Muslim countries, construction of the border wall, and the "wealth test" for people seeking green cards.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that the asylum policy, known officially as "Migrant Protection Protocols," probably is illegal under U.S. law to prevent sending people to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular social group.

About 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for their cases to wind through clogged U.S. immigration courts since the policy was introduced in January 2019 in San Diego and later expanded across the border.

"The Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal. The Supreme Court should as well,'' said Judy Rabinovitz, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents asylum-seekers and immigrant advocacy groups in the case. "Asylum-seekers face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect."

The Justice Department said the high court's order restores "the government's ability to manage the Southwest border and to work cooperatively with the Mexican government to address illegal immigration."

Human Rights First, an advocacy group that opposes the policy, said it found more than 1,000 public reports of kidnappings, torture, rape and assaults of asylum-seekers returned to Mexico.

The administration said in court papers that more than 36,000 of the 60,000 cases had been resolved in immigration courts. Asylum has been granted in less than 1% of the cases that have been decided. Only 5% are represented by attorneys, many of whom are reluctant to visit clients in Mexico.

The administration had argued that thousands of immigrants would rush the border if the high court didn't step in.

Sotomayor recuses from electors case, cites Baca friendship

By Allison Sherry
Colorado Public Radio

DENVER (AP) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has recused herself from a Colorado faithless elector case coming in front of the high court, citing a friendship with one of the original respondents in the case.

Colorado Department of State v. Baca could decide the future of the power of states to bind Electoral College electors to voter preferences in presidential elections. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard in front on April 28.

Colorado Public Radio reports that Sotomayor's clerk released a one paragraph letter Tuesday recusing the justice from the case, citing a long friendship with Polly Baca.

Baca, originally of Weld County, is a longtime fixture in Colorado Democratic politics who served in both the State House and State Senate. She is a member of the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. She attended Sotomayor's confirmation hearings in the Senate, and hosted a party in Denver after the justice was confirmed.

"The Justice believes that her impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to her friendship with respondent Polly Baca," Clerk Scott Harris wrote. "The initial conflict check conducted in Justice Sotomayor's Chambers did not identify this potential conflict."

The original Colorado case started after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump in Colorado. Three Democratic electors announced an intention to vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote in the state.

Two eventually backed down, but one, Micheal Baca, wrote in then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president. He was removed by then-Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and replaced with an elector who picked Clinton.

Micheal Baca and the two others, Polly Baca (who is not related), and Robert Nemanich, sued after his removal.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Baca was legally able to challenge his removal as an elector.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing electors should be legally bound to represent the state's voters. The electors argue that, constitutionally, they have the freedom to be independent.

Colorado's case was going to be paired with a similar case in Washington state - but that case will be heard separately, it was announced. That means both sides in both cases will have more time to make arguments.

"We'll get more time to discuss these cases, which is great," said Jason Harrow, chief counsel for Equal Citizens, representing electors in the Colorado and Washington state cases. "Better to have more than less and it also gives the states more time ... We think this issue is really important.''

Published: Fri, Mar 13, 2020