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White House Asks High Court to Hear Immigration Case This Term

Government attorneys late Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to decide the case over President Barack Obama’s immigration executive actions by the end of this term in June.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. sent a letter Tuesday to the Supreme Court seeking a quick court schedule for the case, which could determine if Obama gets to implement the November 2014 policy changes before he leaves office. Obama’s actions could affect millions of undocumented immigrants.

It’s unclear if the Supreme Court will heed the Obama administration’s request.

The letter came in response to a scheduling change requested Monday by Texas, which is leading the legal challenge from 26 states that so far has blocked implementation of Obama’s executive actions. Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, mainly citing his office’s busy schedule, requested an additional 30 days to respond to the government’s request for the Supreme Court to lift that block.

But Verrilli wrote that such an extension would likely make it too late for the justices to accept the case of nationwide importance this term. That would push the appeal into the next term that starts in October, about four months before Obama would leave office.

A filing from Texas on the state’s proposed date of Jan. 20 “would preclude the court, in the absence of unusual expedition, from deciding to hear the case this term,” Verrilli’s letter states.

If the court agrees to decide the case but not until next term, “it is possible that a decision on the merits would not be issued until June 2017, over two-and-half years after the policy was first announced,” Verrilli’s letter states.

“The effect of such a delay would be to prolong for an additional year the disruption of federal immigration policy and the irreparable harm of denial of work authorization and other protections to millions of people who would be eligible for those protections if the policy is upheld,” Verrilli wrote.

Texas, in its request for the extension, cited “numerous pressing deadlines” in cases that the Texas Attorney General’s Office is handling, including oral arguments at the Supreme Court in a redistricting case Dec. 8, to show that the requested extension “rests on good cause arising from the deadlines recited above.”

Texas also argued that the Supreme Court shouldn’t decline its request for an extension if the government wants the justices to decide the case this term, saying the government didn’t take all the legal steps it could have to speed the case to the high court.

In a typical case, Texas’ move would be an uncontroversial and mundane part of scheduling. How the justices decide on the scheduling issue in this case, however, could hint at whether they want to hear the high-interest immigration case this term, or at all.

Verrilli asked that Texas file its response by Dec. 29, which would give Keller three weeks after his oral arguments in the other Supreme Court case to prepare the response. “That amount of time should be more than sufficient,” Verrilli wrote.

Even if the 30-day extension is granted, Verrilli said, he will ask for such an “unusual expedition:” the Justice Department will ask for a May oral argument session to allow the justices to decide the case this term.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, declined to lift an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen that prevents the implementation of the executive actions. The injunction keeps the status quo until the legal challenge from the states — which claim Obama does not have the authority to take the actions — is finally decided.

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