WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court is again poised to test the bounds of Donald Trump's presidential powers, this time in a politically charged clash over the fate of 700,000 people who were brought into the country illegally as children.
The case, set for argument Tuesday, will mark the climax of Trump's two-year campaign to unravel former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA, as it's known, protects those immigrants from deportation and lets them seek jobs.
The dispute is timed to be decided during the heart of next year's presidential campaign, underscoring the stakes for the divisive subject of immigration and for the court itself.
The administration is challenging lower court rulings that blocked it from rescinding the program. Democratic-led states, universities, labor unions, Microsoft Corp. and DACA recipients are battling to keep the program alive at least through the election.
"These are people who are contributing in fundamental ways to the American economy," said Microsoft President Brad Smith, whose company has 66 employees with DACA status. "These are people who for the most part could not be deported to another home because they've never known another home."
It's the third time in as many terms the Supreme Court has weighed a major Trump administration initiative, following rulings that upheld the president's travel ban and blocked the use of a question about citizenship in the 2020 census.
The administration moved to rescind DACA in September 2017 in the face of a threatened challenge to the program by Republican-led states. At the time, the administration said it agreed with those states that the program went beyond Obama's authority under the federal immigration laws.
Trump's team has since tried to supplement that legal rationale with additional reasons based on policy grounds. In a June 2018 memo, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration believed a case-by-case approach would be wiser than DACA's exemption of a broad category of people from immigration enforcement.
"It is critically important for DHS to project a message that leaves no doubt regarding the clear, consistent and transparent enforcement of the immigration laws against all classes and categories of aliens," Nielsen wrote.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the administration's top Supreme Court lawyer, said in court papers that "DHS provided multiple, independently sufficient grounds for withdrawing DACA."