Why Trump keeps losing at the Supreme Court

Taken out of the rarified, genteel world of the Supreme Court, that language translates roughly to “Pants on fire.” The Court was saying that the Trump administration had cooked the books. It pretended that the Justice Department had wanted help, and it claimed to have consulted Commerce Department experts when in fact it had disregarded their expertise. For the Supreme Court to allow the citizenship question would be to allow itself to be duped—and it refused. In a superficial sense, the ruling was technical. But at its core, the decision was a full-throated rejection of the Trump administration’s tendency to make policy decisions at odds with expert analysis, or really any analysis at all.

When Trump lost the DACA case this past week, Chief Justice Roberts again wrote the Court’s opinion, now rejecting Trump’s attempt to terminate the DACA program’s forbearance of enforcing certain immigration laws against many who arrived in the U.S. as children. This time, it was the Department of Homeland Security that relied on the Justice Department to attempt to justify a major policy change. The attorney general had provided a memo arguing that the provision of certain benefits to DACA recipients was unlawful, and Homeland Security used that memo as its sole reason for terminating the whole DACA program. But, as Roberts explained, that was a complete non sequitur: It “treated the Attorney General’s conclusion regarding the illegality of benefits as sufficient to rescind both benefits and forbearance, without explanation.”

Again, the translation is that the Trump administration wasn’t on the level. It had used a legal conclusion about one aspect of DACA to jettison not just that part of the program, but a different one too. It just didn’t make sense. So although the Court again technically ruled narrowly that the process yielding DACA’s termination was inadequate, the Court reaffirmed a more fundamental principle: The executive branch must have legitimate and nonarbitrary reasons for its actions.