Supreme Court Justice Warns Texas Immigration Law Will ‘Sow Chaos’

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the Texas law that allows local police to arrest illegal immigrants would “sow chaos.”

By Jack Phillips


As the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision Tuesday to allow a Texas immigration law to go into effect, one dissenting justice claimed the measure would “sow chaos.”

The law, SB4, gives Texas law enforcement officials the ability to arrest, detain, and remove people who are suspected of illegally entering the United States. The Supreme Court rejected an emergency request from the Biden Department of Justice, which had argued that states have no right to enforce immigration laws.

Hours after the high court’s ruling, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit placed a hold on the law. Last month, a Texas-based federal judge blocked its enforcement, also arguing that it likely runs afoul of the Constitution’s supremacy clause.

The Supreme Court’s order gave no reasons, but Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh filed concurring opinions. Three Democrat-appointed justices, Elena Kagan, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor said that it would upend the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration laws. She did not address arguments that the Biden administration has failed to enforce immigration law or whether the state is being invaded by illegal immigrants, as lawyers for the state of Texas have said in court papers.

“The Court gives a green light to a law that will upend the longstanding federal-state balance of power and sow chaos, when the only court to consider the law concluded that it is likely unconstitutional,” she wrote in her opinion, which was joined by Justice Jackson.

The SB4 measure would grant local and state law enforcement to arrest individuals they believe have crossed into the state illegally. It would also provide state judges the power to order illegal immigrants to be transported to a port of entry or returned to Mexico despite their country of origin.

Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, said the law is necessary due to the significant surge of illegal immigrants in Texas over the past three years. They have argued that the Biden administration has failed to enforce border laws and that the state has the right to enforce its own mandates—while arguing Texas is being invaded by illegal aliens.

Describing the SB4 law as a “novel scheme,” Justice Sotomayor added it should warrant “careful and reasoned consideration in the courts to determine which provisions may be unconstitutional.”

“Although the [Supreme Court] today expresses no view on whether Texas’s law is constitutional, and instead defers to a lower court’s management of its docket, the Court of Appeals abused its discretion by entering an unreasoned and indefinite administrative stay that altered the status quo,” the justice added. “This Court stands idle. Because I cannot, I dissent.”

The Obama-appointed justice wrote that for the past 100 years, the Supreme Court precedent has affirmed the federal government’s authority over immigration, including admitting or excluding non-U.S. citizens.

“Procedure can be just as consequential as substance. The District Court concluded that S. B. 4 was likely unconstitutional and would cause immediate chaos were it to go into effect,” Justice Sotomayor continued.

“Texas nonetheless asked for permission to enforce that law while appealing the preliminary injunction.”

Her dissent blasted the 5th Circuit, which had previously allowed Texas to enact the law several weeks ago.

The court will soon hear arguments in the case to determine if the law should remain on hold.

“The Fifth Circuit abused its discretion, and this Court makes the same mistake by permitting a temporary administrative stay to alter the status quo that has existed for over a century,” she claimed.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a separate dissent in the case, echoing assertions made by Justice Sotomayor that she believes immigration should be handled by the federal government.
“Given that established understanding, I would not allow Texas Senate Bill 4 to go into effect. And in the circumstances, I do not think the Fifth Circuit’s use of an administrative stay, rather than a stay pending appeal, should matter,” she wrote.

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who appealed the lower judge’s ruling that blocked the law’s enforcement, told a local news channel Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s majority made a “great ruling” and sends a message that “states do have rights.”

“As people are dealing with fentanyl overdoses of their children, as they’re dealing with potential terrorists coming into our nation, as they’re dealing with higher crime rates in our cities because of this illegal immigration problem, I think it is important for them to know that Texas is going to try to protect them and try to defend them, even if the federal government will not, and actually is doing just the opposite by encouraging this behavior,” Mr. Paxton, a Republican, told the outlet.

The case will return to U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is slated to hear oral arguments on April 3.