On Monday, a split Supreme Court granted a stay that permits agents from the Biden administration to open Texas’s border barrier. This stay effectively blocks a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which had favored Texas in the ongoing clash between the Biden administration’s open border policies and Texas’s efforts to secure the border. In a temporary stay, two justices appointed by Republicans joined the Democrats in a five-to-four vote. Meanwhile, litigation is still ongoing in the lower court. Prior to this, on December 19, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had issued an injunction in favor of Texas.
Judge Kyle Duncan wrote:
“The number of Border Patrol encounters with migrants illegally entering the country has swelled from a comparatively paltry 458,000 in 2020 to 1.7 million in 2021 and 2.4 million in 2022. Unsurprisingly, the situation has been exploited by drug cartels, who have made an incredibly lucrative enterprise out of trafficking human beings and illegal drugs like fentanyl, which is frequently encountered in vast quantities at the border.”
The panel decision continued:
“In 2021, Texas launched Operation Lone Star to aid the Border Patrol through allocation of state resources. The activity in question here is Texas’s laying of concertina wire along several sections of the riverfront. The c-wire serves as a deterrent—an effective one at that, causing illegal crossings to drop precipitously. By all accounts, Border Patrol is grateful for the assistance of Texas law enforcement, and the evidence shows the parties work cooperatively across the state, including in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.”
The court further explained:
“By September 2023, Texas had installed over 29 miles of c-wire in [the Eagle Pass] area. Both the Border Patrol and Texas agree that the c-wire must be cut in the event of an emergency, such as the threat of a migrant’s drowning or suffering heat exhaustion. The problem arises when Border Patrol agents cut the wire without prior notification to Texas for reasons other than emergencies.”
Texas filed a lawsuit to prevent federal agents from cutting the border wire, arguing that it constituted both a tort known as “trespass to chattels” and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, sought to dismiss the case, citing immunity for the federal government and its agencies, unless Congress explicitly consents by waiving sovereign immunity.
However, the appeals court based in New Orleans rejected the DOJ’s claim of immunity. The court reasoned that the relevant section of the APA, “Section 702,” explicitly waives sovereign immunity for any lawsuit seeking nonmonetary relief in federal court.
Furthermore, the Fifth Circuit also dismissed the DOJ’s other arguments. Firstly, the court rejected the notion that Texas’s tort claims could only be pursued against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Additionally, the panel rejected the DOJ’s claim of intergovernmental immunity, as Texas was not attempting to regulate Border Control directly or treat the federal government unfairly compared to other parties. The court also dismissed the DOJ’s claim of jurisdictional immunity, as the DOJ argued that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the authority to do so under 8 U.S.C. §§ 1103(a)(3) and 1357(a)(3), neither of which fell under that immunity.
The appellate court also agreed:
“The district court found that the Border Patrol exceeded its authority by cutting Texas’s c-wire fence for purposes other than a medical emergency, inspection, or detention. Moreover, the public interest supports clear protections for property rights from government intrusion and control.”
Elizabeth Prelogar, the Solicitor General of the United States and President Biden’s chief legal advisor at the Supreme Court, submitted a request to the court for a stay of the injunction. This stay temporarily suspends the lower court’s decision while the appeals process is ongoing. To the astonishment of many, the court approved the stay with a majority vote of five to four.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented and voted against the stay. This implies that both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, along with the three liberal justices, concurred in issuing the stay.