After listening to an hour of oral arguments, District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell said she was not prepared to rule on the case the same day. Her opinion on whether to block Obama’s action, she said, would come “very shortly.”
“This is not a question about immigration enforcement. It’s a question about the Constitution. It’s a question about whether the president can override Congress,” Klayman said.
The precedent Obama's actions are setting is "terrible," he added. "It's trashing our Constitution.”
Arpaio and his office have been negatively impacted by the executive actions, Klayman argued. The sheriff, who’s unpopular in the immigrant community, could face “bodily harm or death” with more immigrants on the streets. And when federal immigration agents release rather than deport undocumented immigrants, Klayman said, more than a third of them end up back in Maricopa County jails, draining limited resources.
Howell, a former Justice Department official and Senate staffer who was nominated by Obama in 2010, repeatedly interrupted Klayman during his arguments. She said immigrants wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the Obama programs until February at the earliest, and noted that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been deferring some deportations of immigrants for years.
“If Congress doesn’t like it,” the judge said, “doesn’t Congress have the power to step in and address what misappropriation they think is going on here?” she asked.
Trying to halt Obama’s immigration actions will be one of the top priorities for Republicans when they take over both chambers of Congress in January. GOP lawmakers want to pass legislation barring the administration from using funds to implement Obama’s programs, which the president is expected to veto.
That would set up another Republican showdown with Obama at the end of February, when funding for the Homeland Security Department runs out.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other congressional Republicans have indicated they may file their own lawsuit seeking to block Obama’s immigration actions, but other legal challenges are already moving forward.
Earlier this month, Texas and 16 other states filed a lawsuit in federal court against the immigration actions, arguing that Obama was “abdicating his responsibility” to enforce immigration laws. And a federal judge in Pennsylvania, Arthur Schwab, ruled that parts of Obama’s immigration actions were unconstitutional because he decided sentencing for an illegal immigrant who had committed a crime.
Klayman pointed to both of the cases in his arguments. But Howell repeatedly said she found Schwab’s ruling “puzzling” because the case concerned an individual undocumented immigrant — not a direct challenge to Obama’s actions.
“I find it a real puzzle how [Schwab] was able to reach out and find the program unconstitutional when the program didn’t apply to him [the immigrant],” Howell said.
On several occasions, Klayman stressed that the Arpaio suit was not a personal attack on Obama. The two men have quarreled on and off during the past six years.
In 2010, Obama’s Justice Department sued to stop S.B. 1070, Arizona’s tough anti-illegal-immigration law, from taking effect. The law, which was championed by Arpaio, suffered a setback at the Supreme Court as several of its provisions were struck down.
Also during Obama’s first term, the DOJ investigated allegations that Arpaio had abused his power during his two decades in office. But the case was dropped in 2012 and he was never charged.