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Sonia Sotomayor Drops The Hammer On Supreme Court’s Conservatives For Bowing To Trump

Supreme Court Justice Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a devastating conclusion to a dissenting opinion released Friday, accusing her conservative colleagues of bias toward Donald Trump by contrasting while pointing out their callousness toward inmates facing the death penalty with their excessive fealty to the president.

Her dissent broke from the court’s decision to grant the Trump administration a stay in the case of Wolf v. Cook County. In the case, a lower court had issued a preliminary injunction blocking implementation in Illinois of Trump’s new “public charge” rule, which places restrictions on immigrants who it believes might use certain government services. Last week, the Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court to overturn the injunction and issue a stay to allow the rule to go into effect while the legal challenges continue.

On Friday evening, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration’s wealth test for immigrants to take effect in Illinois. All four liberal justices dissented from the order, which changes relatively little: Thanks to the conservative justices’ intervention in January, the wealth test was poised to take effect in 49 states, and Friday’s vote lets the government apply it in the last state left. What’s most remarkable about the decision is Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s withering dissent, which calls out—with startling candor—a distressing pattern: The court’s Republican appointees have a clear bias toward the Trump administration.

Trump’s wealth test marks a brazen attempt to limit legal immigration by forcing immigrants to prove their financial status to enter, or remain in, the United States. Because the policy departs so dramatically from federal law, several courts blocked its implementation in 2019. In January, however, the Supreme Court allowed the wealth test to take effect over the dissent of all four liberals. The majority did not explain its reasoning. But Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote a concurrence complaining that a district court had blocked it across the country, decrying the “rise of nationwide injunctions.”

Gorsuch’s opinion raised the possibility that the conservative justices disapproved of the scope of the district court’s injunction, not the reasoning behind it.

Normally, “to justify upending the normal rules,” the government “must also show a likelihood of irreparable harm.” And “it has not made that showing here.” But this shortcut to SCOTUS has become “the new normal”; it has happened over and over and over again, as the DOJ leapfrogs over the lower courts to seize a victory at the Supreme Court.

Sotomayor explained: “Claiming one emergency after another, the Government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming limited Court resources in each. And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow.”

But the Supreme Court’s conservatives repeatedly accept the DOJ’s declarations of an “emergency,” giving Donald Trump whatever he wants.

This practice, Sotomayor wrote, has “benefited one litigant over all others”: the Trump administration. And the injustice of this favoritism is especially painful in light of the court’s recent refusal to halt unconstitutional executions. “This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed,” Sotomayor noted, blaming death row inmates for their ostensible failure “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.” She concluded:

Put simply: When some of the most despised and powerless among us ask the Supreme Court to spare their lives, the conservative justices turn a cold shoulder. When Donald demands permission to implement some cruel, nativist, and potentially unlawful immigration restrictions, the conservatives bend over backward to give it everything it wants. There is nothing “fair and balanced” about the court’s double standard that favors the government over everyone else. And, as Sotomayor implies, this flagrant bias creates the disturbing impression that Donald Trump has a majority of the court in his pocket.


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