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Biden Judge Casts Deciding Votes to Block Harsh Texas Immigration Law

A photo of a statue of lady justice holding scales with sunlight in the background.

Judge Irma Ramirez cast the deciding votes to block Texas from enforcing a harsh state immigration law that purports to give it the authority to arrest and deport immigrants, contrary to well-understood federal law. The court will consider next week the merits of the preliminary injunction entered by a lower court against the law. Judge Andrew Oldham, who was nominated by Donald Trump, dissented. The two March decisions in the case, US v Texas, can be found here and here.


What is the background of this case?


Under conservative Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas enacted a law (SB 4) late last year that gives state and local police the authority to arrest and deport people who have crossed the border without documentation and makes such conduct a state crime. Historically, the federal government alone has exercised such authority.


A federal district court in Texas issued a preliminary injunction in February against the law, based largely on its apparent violation of the constitution’s Supremacy Clause, under which the federal government, not state and local government, has the authority to make and enforce criminal immigration laws. Texas got the Fifth Circuit to block the injunction through an “administrative stay,”  and the Justice Department took the case to the Supreme Court. The Court temporarily stopped the Fifth Circuit’s order, but on March 18,  the Court issued a controversial 6-3 ruling that allowed Texas to enforce SB 4.


That situation did not last long. Later that same day, Biden Judge Ramirez cast the deciding vote, along with conservative Chief Judge Priscilla Richman, in a brief order that dissolved the Fifth Circuit’s earlier administrative stay. The effect of the 2-1 order was that the law would remain blocked until the case was more fully considered by the appeals court.  Argument on the  merits of the state’s motion to  stay the injunction and allow the law to go into effect was set for March 20. Judge Gary Odham, who was nominated by Donald Trump and formerly worked for Abbott, dissented.


How did Judge Ramirez and the Fifth Circuit Majority Rule in the Latest Decision and Why is it Impoatant?


Judge Ramirez again cast the deciding vote in a March 26 ruling that formally denied Texas’ motion for a stay, so that the preliminary injunction blocking the law remains in effect. As Chief Judge Richman wrote in a comprehensive 50-page opinion for herself and Ramirez, for “nearly 150 years, the Supreme Court has held that the power to control immigration,” including the “removal of noncitizens,” is “exclusively a federal power.” SB4, she continued, appears to violate that principle, and Texas had not met its burden to prove that it would likely prevail. Once again, Judge Oldham dissented.


Judge Ramirez’s deciding vote is obviously important because it continues to block Texas’ troubling SB4. The court will fully consider the merits of the preliminary injunction on April 4. This issue may well be considered by the full Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court but at least for now, the decision reaffirms the important principle of federal authority concerning immigration. In addition, the case serves as a reminder of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees like Judge Ramirez to our federal courts.