The US Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a case in which Republican-led states were attempting to defend a Trump-era immigration policy known as the “public charge” rule after the Biden administration declined to do so. In a brief order, the court dismissed Arizona v. City and County of San Francisco as “improvidently granted.”
Under 8 USC § 1182(a)(4)(A), the government may deny noncitizens admission or adjustment to immigration status if they are likely to become public charges. Between 1999 and 2019, public charges were defined as individuals likely to receive cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. However, in August 2019, the Trump administration issued a final rule further defining public charges to mean someone more likely than not at any time in the future to receive one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36 months.
The rule change caused discord in several states. Multiple states sought preliminary injunctions in the US Courts of Appeals for the Second, Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits, alleging that they were injured when noncitizens, confused by the rule’s implications, unenrolled unnecessarily from state public benefits. The Ninth Circuit stayed the injunctions issued in its circuit, while the Second and Seventh Circuits denied the stays.
In March 2021, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would no longer appeal court rulings enjoining the 2019 rule’s enforcement. As a result, the Seventh Circuit granted the federal government’s motion to dismiss Cook County v. Wolf, a case pertaining to the enforcement of the 2019 rule. This dismissal led to DHS announcing that the Cook County ruling, which vacated the 2019 rule, would be in effect nationwide and that the 1999 rule would control.
In response to this, 14 states collectively filed motions to intervene, arguing that because the US announced its intention to stop defending the rule and the cases were dismissed so abruptly after the announcements, the states were going to defend the rule themselves. The Fourth and Seventh Circuits dismissed the states’ motions, and DHS issued a final rule removing the 2019 rule.
In June, Arizona and 12 other states asked the Supreme Court to intervene, and the court agreed to take up the case. The court heard arguments in the case in February but ultimately dismissed the case Wednesday. In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote that the dismissal “should not be taken as reflective of a view on any of the foregoing issues, or on the appropriate resolution of other litigation, pending or future, related to the 2019 Public Charge Rule, its repeal, or its replacement by a new rule.”