NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Nos. 18–587, 18–588, and 18–589
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al., PETITIONERS
REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, et al.
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, et al., PETITIONERS
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, et al.; AND
on writ of certiorari before judgment to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit
CHAD WOLF, ACTING SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY, et al., PETITIONERS
MARTIN JONATHAN BATALLA VIDAL, et al.
on writ of certiorari before judgment to the united states court of appeals for the second circuit
[June 18, 2020]
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV.
In the summer of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. That program allows certain unauthorized aliens who entered the United States as children to apply for a two-year forbearance of removal. Those granted such relief are also eligible for work authorization and various federal benefits. Some 700,000 aliens have availed themselves of this opportunity.
Five years later, the Attorney General advised DHS to rescind DACA, based on his conclusion that it was unlawful. The Department’s Acting Secretary issued a memorandum terminating the program on that basis. The termination was challenged by affected individuals and third parties who alleged, among other things, that the Acting Secretary had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to adequately address important factors bearing on her decision. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the Acting Secretary did violate the APA, and that the rescission must be vacated.
In June 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security issued a memorandum announcing an immigration relief program for “certain young people who were brought to this country as children.” App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 18–587, p. 97a (App. to Pet. for Cert.). Known as DACA, the program applies to childhood arrivals who were under age 31 in 2012; have continuously resided here since 2007; are current students, have completed high school, or are honorably discharged veterans; have not been convicted of any serious crimes; and do not threaten national security or public safety. Id.
, at 98a. DHS concluded that individuals who meet these criteria warrant favorable treatment under the immigration laws because they “lacked the intent to violate the law,” are “productive” contributors to our society, and “know only this country as home.” Id.
, at 98a–99a.
“[T]o prevent [these] low priority individuals from being removed from the United States,” the DACA Memorandum instructs Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “exercise prosecutorial discretion[ ] on an individual basis . . . by deferring action for a period of two years, subject to renewal.” Id.
, at 100a. In addition, it directs U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to “accept applications to determine whether these individuals qualify for work authorization during this period of deferred action,” id.
, at 101a, as permitted under regulations long predating DACA’s creation, see 8 CFR §274a.12(c)(14) (2012) (permitting work authorization for deferred action recipients who establish “economic necessity”); 46 Fed. Reg. 25080–25081 (1981) (similar). Pursuant to other regulations, deferred action recipients are considered “lawfully present” for purposes of, and therefore eligible to receive, Social Security and Medicare benefits. See 8 CFR §1.3(a)(4)(vi); 42 CFR §417.422(h) (2012).
In November 2014, two years after DACA was promulgated, DHS issued a memorandum announcing that it would expand DACA eligibility by removing the age cap, shifting the date-of-entry requirement from 2007 to 2010, and extending the deferred action and work authorization period to three years. App. to Pet. for Cert. 106a–107a. In the same memorandum, DHS created a new, related program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. That program would have authorized deferred action for up to 4.3 million parents whose children were U. S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. These parents were to enjoy the same forbearance, work eligibility, and other benefits as DACA recipients.
Before the DAPA Memorandum was implemented, 26 States, led by Texas, filed suit in the Southern District of Texas. The States contended that DAPA and the DACA expansion violated the APA’s notice and comment requirement, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and the Executive’s duty under the Take Care Clause of the Constitution. The District Court found that the States were likely to succeed on the merits of at least one of their claims and entered a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of both DAPA and the DACA expansion. See Texas
v. United States
, 86 F. Supp. 3d 591, 677–678 (2015).
A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction. Texas
v. United States
, 809 F.3d 134, 188 (2015). In opposing the injunction, the Government argued that the DAPA Memorandum reflected an unreviewable exercise of the Government’s enforcement discretion. The Fifth Circuit majority disagreed. It reasoned that the deferred action described in the DAPA Memorandum was “much more than nonenforcement: It would affirmatively confer ‘lawful presence’ and associated benefits on a class of unlawfully present aliens.” Id.
, at 166. From this, the majority concluded that the creation of the DAPA program was not an unreviewable action “committed to agency discretion by law.” Id.
, at 169 (quoting
5 U. S. C. §701(a)(2)).
The majority then upheld the injunction on two grounds. It first concluded the States were likely to succeed on their procedural claim that the DAPA Memorandum was a substantive rule that was required to undergo notice and comment. It then held that the APA required DAPA to be set aside because the program was “manifestly contrary” to the INA, which “expressly and carefully provides legal designations allowing defined classes” to “receive the benefits” associated with “lawful presence” and to qualify for work authorization, 809 F. 3d, at 179–181, 186 (internal quotation marks omitted). Judge King dissented.
This Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s judgment by an equally divided vote, which meant that no opinion was issued. United States
, 579 U. S. ___ (2016) (per curiam
). For the next year, litigation over DAPA and the DACA expansion continued in the Southern District of Texas, while implementation of those policies remained enjoined.
Then, in June 2017, following a change in Presidential administrations, DHS rescinded the DAPA Memorandum. In explaining that decision, DHS cited the preliminary injunction and ongoing litigation in Texas, the fact that DAPA had never taken effect, and the new administration’s immigration enforcement priorities.
Three months later, in September 2017, Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions III sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine C. Duke, “advis[ing]” that DHS “should rescind” DACA as well. App. 877. Citing the Fifth Circuit’s opinion and this Court’s equally divided affirmance, the Attorney General concluded that DACA shared the “same legal . . . defects that the courts recognized as to DAPA” and was “likely” to meet a similar fate. Id.
, at 878. “In light of the costs and burdens” that a rescission would “impose[ ] on DHS,” the Attorney General urged DHS to “consider an orderly and efficient wind-down process.” Ibid.
The next day, Duke acted on the Attorney General’s advice. In her decision memorandum, Duke summarized the history of the DACA and DAPA programs, the Fifth Circuit opinion and ensuing affirmance, and the contents of the Attorney General’s letter. App. to Pet. for Cert. 111a–117a. “Taking into consideration the Supreme Court’s and the Fifth Circuit’s rulings” and the “letter from the Attorney General,” she concluded that the “DACA program should be terminated.” Id.
, at 117a.
Duke then detailed how the program would be wound down: No new applications would be accepted, but DHS would entertain applications for two-year renewals from DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months. For all other DACA recipients, previously issued grants of deferred action and work authorization would not be revoked but would expire on their own terms, with no prospect for renewal. Id.
, at 117a–118a.
Within days of Acting Secretary Duke’s rescission announcement, multiple groups of plaintiffs ranging from individual DACA recipients and States to the Regents of the University of California and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People challenged her decision in the U. S. District Courts for the Northern District of California (Regents
, No. 18–587), the Eastern District of New York (Batalla Vidal
, No. 18–589), and the District of Columbia (NAACP
, No. 18–588). The relevant claims are that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA and that it infringed the equal protection guarantee of the
Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.[1
All three District Courts ruled for the plaintiffs, albeit at different stages of the proceedings.[2
] In doing so, each court rejected the Government’s threshold arguments that the claims were unreviewable under the APA and that the INA deprived the court of jurisdiction. 298 F. Supp. 3d 209, 223–224, 234–235 (DC 2018); 279 F. Supp. 3d 1011, 1029–1033 (ND Cal. 2018); 295 F. Supp. 3d 127, 150, 153–154 (EDNY 2017).
and Batalla Vidal
, the District Courts held that the equal protection claims were adequately alleged. 298 F. Supp. 3d 1304, 1315 (ND Cal. 2018); 291 F. Supp. 3d 260, 279 (EDNY 2018). Those courts also entered coextensive nationwide preliminary injunctions, based on the conclusion that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious. These injunctions did not require DHS to accept new applications, but did order the agency to allow DACA recipients to “renew their enrollments.” 279 F. Supp. 3d, at 1048; see 279 F. Supp. 3d 401, 437 (EDNY 2018).
, the D. C. District Court took a different course. In April 2018, it deferred ruling on the equal protection challenge but granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their APA claim, holding that Acting Secretary Duke’s “conclusory statements were insufficient to explain the change in [the agency’s] view of DACA’s lawfulness.” 298 F. Supp. 3d, at 243. The District Court stayed its order for 90 days to permit DHS to “reissue a memorandum rescinding DACA, this time providing a fuller explanation for the determination that the program lacks statutory and constitutional authority.” Id.
, at 245.
Two months later, Duke’s successor, Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, responded via memorandum. App. to Pet. for Cert. 120a–126a. She explained that, “[h]aving considered the Duke memorandum,” she “decline[d] to disturb” the rescission. Id.
, at 121a. Secretary Nielsen went on to articulate her “understanding” of Duke’s memorandum, identifying three reasons why, in Nielsen’s estimation, “the decision to rescind the DACA policy was, and remains, sound.” Ibid.
First, she reiterated that, “as the Attorney General concluded, the DACA policy was contrary to law.” Id.
, at 122a. Second, she added that, regardless, the agency had “serious doubts about [DACA’s] legality” and, for law enforcement reasons, wanted to avoid “legally questionable” policies. Id.
, at 123a. Third, she identified multiple policy reasons for rescinding DACA, including (1) the belief that any class-based immigration relief should come from Congress, not through executive non-enforcement; (2) DHS’s preference for exercising prosecutorial discretion on “a truly individualized, case-by-case basis”; and (3) the importance of “project[ing] a message” that immigration laws would be enforced against all classes and categories of aliens. Id.
, at 123a–124a. In her final paragraph, Secretary Nielsen acknowledged the “asserted reliance interests” in DACA’s continuation but concluded that they did not “outweigh the questionable legality of the DACA policy and the other reasons” for the rescission discussed in her memorandum. Id.
, at 125a.
The Government asked the D. C. District Court to revise its prior order in light of the reasons provided by Secretary Nielsen, but the court declined. In the court’s view, the new memorandum, which “fail[ed] to elaborate meaningfully” on the agency’s illegality rationale, still did not provide an adequate explanation for the September 2017 rescission. 315 F. Supp. 3d 457, 460, 473–474 (2018).
The Government appealed the various District Court decisions to the Second, Ninth, and D. C. Circuits, respectively. In November 2018, while those appeals were pending, the Government simultaneously filed three petitions for certiorari before judgment. After the Ninth Circuit affirmed the nationwide injunction in Regents
, see 908 F.3d 476 (2018), but before rulings from the other two Circuits, we granted the petitions and consolidated the cases for argument. 588 U. S. ___ (2019). The issues raised here are (1) whether the APA claims are reviewable, (2) if so, whether the rescission was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA, and (3) whether the plaintiffs have stated an equal protection claim.
The dispute before the Court is not whether DHS may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.
The APA “sets forth the procedures by which federal agencies are accountable to the public and their actions subject to review by the courts.” Franklin
505 U.S. 788
, 796 (1992). It requires agencies to engage in “reasoned decisionmaking,” Michigan
576 U.S. 743, 750 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted), and directs that agency actions be “set aside” if they are “arbitrary” or “capricious,”
5 U. S. C. §706(2)(A). Under this “narrow standard of review, . . . a court is not to substitute its judgment for that of the agency,” FCC
v. Fox Television Stations, Inc.
556 U.S. 502
, 513 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted), but instead to assess only whether the decision was “based on a consideration of the relevant factors and whether there has been a clear error of judgment,” Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc.
401 U.S. 402
, 416 (1971).
But before determining whether the rescission was arbitrary and capricious, we must first address the Government’s contentions that DHS’s decision is unreviewable under the APA and outside this Court’s jurisdiction.
The APA establishes a “basic presumption of judicial review [for] one ‘suffering legal wrong because of agency action.’ ” Abbott Laboratories
387 U.S. 136
, 140 (1967) (quoting §702). That presumption can be rebutted by a showing that the relevant statute “preclude[s]” review, §701(a)(1), or that the “agency action is committed to agency discretion by law,” §701(a)(2). The latter exception is at issue here.
To “honor the presumption of review, we have read the exception in §701(a)(2) quite narrowly,” Weyerhaeuser Co.
v. United States Fish and Wildlife Serv.
, 586 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 12), confining it to those rare “administrative decision[s] traditionally left to agency discretion,” Lincoln
508 U.S. 182
, 191 (1993). This limited category of unreviewable actions includes an agency’s decision not to institute enforcement proceedings, Heckler
470 U.S. 821
, 831–832 (1985), and it is on that exception that the Government primarily relies.
, several death-row inmates petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take enforcement action against two States to prevent their use of certain drugs for lethal injection. The Court held that the FDA’s denial of that petition was presumptively unreviewable in light of the well-established “tradition” that “an agency’s decision not to prosecute or enforce” is “generally committed to an agency’s absolute discretion.” Id.
at 831. We identified a constellation of reasons that underpin this tradition. To start, a non-enforcement decision “often involves a complicated balancing of a number of factors which are peculiarly within [the agency’s] expertise,” such as “whether the particular enforcement action requested best fits the agency’s overall policies.” Ibid.
The decision also mirrors, “to some extent,” a prosecutor’s decision not to indict, which has “long been regarded as the special province of the Executive Branch.” Id.
, at 832. And, as a practical matter, “when an agency refuses to act” there is no action to “provide[ ] a focus for judicial review.” Ibid
The Government contends that a general non-enforcement policy is equivalent to the individual non-enforcement decision at issue in Chaney
. In each case, the Government argues, the agency must balance factors peculiarly within its expertise, and does so in a manner akin to a criminal prosecutor. Building on that premise, the Government argues that the rescission of a non-enforcement policy is no different—for purposes of reviewability—from the adoption of that policy. While the rescission may lead to increased enforcement, it does not, by itself, constitute a particular enforcement action. Applying this logic to the facts here, the Government submits that DACA is a non-enforcement policy and that its rescission is therefore unreviewable.
But we need not test this chain of reasoning because DACA is not simply a non-enforcement policy. For starters, the DACA Memorandum did not merely “refus[e] to institute proceedings” against a particular entity or even a particular class. Ibid
. Instead, it directed USCIS to “establish a clear and efficient process” for identifying individuals who met the enumerated criteria. App. to Pet. for Cert. 100a. Based on this directive, USCIS solicited applications from eligible aliens, instituted a standardized review process, and sent formal notices indicating whether the alien would receive the two-year forbearance. These proceedings are effectively “adjudicat[ions].” Id
., at 117a. And the result of these adjudications—DHS’s decision to “grant deferred action,” Brief for Petitioners 45—is an “affirmative act of approval,” the very opposite of a “refus[al] to act,” Chaney
, 470 U. S., at 831–832. In short, the DACA Memorandum does not announce a passive non-enforcement policy; it created a program for conferring affirmative immigration relief. The creation of that program—and its rescission—is an “action [that] provides a focus for judicial review.” Id.
, at 832.
The benefits attendant to deferred action provide further confirmation that DACA is more than simply a non-enforcement policy. As described above, by virtue of receiving deferred action, the 700,000 DACA recipients may request work authorization and are eligible for Social Security and Medicare. See supra
, at 3. Unlike an agency’s refusal to take requested enforcement action, access to these types of benefits is an interest “courts often are called upon to protect.” Chaney
, 470 U. S., at 832. See also Barnhart
540 U.S. 20
(2003) (reviewing eligibility determination for Social Security benefits).
Because the DACA program
is more than a non-enforcement policy, its rescission is subject to review under the APA.
The Government also invokes two jurisdictional provisions of the INA as independent bars to review. Neither applies.
Section 1252(b)(9) bars review of claims arising from “action[s]” or “proceeding[s] brought to remove an alien.”
209, as amended,
8 U. S. C. §1252(b)(9). That targeted language is not aimed at this sort of case. As we have said before, §1252(b)(9) “does not present a jurisdictional bar” where those bringing suit “are not asking for review of an order of removal,” “the decision . . . to seek removal,” or “the process by which . . . removability will be determined.” Jennings
, 583 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2018) (plurality opinion) (slip op., at 10–11); id.
, at ___ (Breyer, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 31). And it is certainly not a bar where, as here, the parties are not challenging any removal proceedings.
Section 1252(g) is similarly narrow. That provision limits review of cases “arising from” decisions “to commence proceedings, adjudicate cases, or execute removal orders.” §1252(g). We have previously rejected as “implausible” the Government’s suggestion that §1252(g) covers “all claims arising from deportation proceedings” or imposes “a general jurisdictional limitation.” Reno
v. American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Comm.
525 U.S. 471
, 482 (1999). The rescission, which revokes a deferred action program with associated benefits, is not a decision to “commence proceedings,” much less to “adjudicate” a case or “execute” a removal order.
With these preliminary arguments out of the way, we proceed to the merits.
Deciding whether agency action was adequately explained requires, first, knowing where to look for the agency’s explanation. The natural starting point here is the explanation provided by Acting Secretary Duke when she announced the rescission in September 2017. But the Government urges us to go on and consider the June 2018 memorandum submitted by Secretary Nielsen as well. That memo was prepared after the D. C. District Court vacated the Duke rescission and gave DHS an opportunity to “reissue a memorandum rescinding DACA, this time providing a fuller explanation for the determination that the program lacks statutory and constitutional authority.” 298 F. Supp. 3d, at 245. According to the Government, the Nielsen Memorandum is properly before us because it was invited by the District Court and reflects the views of the Secretary of Homeland Security—the official responsible for immigration policy. Respondents disagree, arguing that the Nielsen Memorandum, issued nine months after the rescission, impermissibly asserts prudential and policy reasons not relied upon by Duke.
It is a “foundational principle of administrative law” that judicial review of agency action is limited to “the grounds that the agency invoked when it took the action.” Michigan
, 576 U. S., at 758. If those grounds are inadequate, a court may remand for the agency to do one of two things: First, the agency can offer “a fuller explanation of the agency’s reasoning at the time of the agency action
.” Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
v. LTV Corp.
496 U.S. 633
, 654 (1990) (emphasis added). See also Alpharma, Inc.
, 460 F.3d 1
, 5–6 (CADC 2006) (Garland, J.) (permitting an agency to provide an “amplified articulation” of a prior “conclusory” observation (internal quotation marks omitted)). This route has important limitations. When an agency’s initial explanation “indicate[s] the determinative reason for the final action taken,” the agency may elaborate later on that reason (or reasons) but may not provide new ones. Camp
411 U.S. 138
, 143 (1973) (per curiam
). Alternatively, the agency can “deal with the problem afresh” by taking new
agency action. SEC
v. Chenery Corp.
332 U.S. 194
, 201 (1947) (Chenery II
). An agency taking this route is not limited to its prior reasons but must comply with the procedural requirements for new agency action.
The District Court’s remand thus presented DHS with a choice: rest on the Duke Memorandum while elaborating on its prior reasoning, or issue a new rescission bolstered by new reasons absent from the Duke Memorandum. Secretary Nielsen took the first path. Rather than making a new decision, she “decline[d] to disturb the Duke memorandum’s rescission” and instead “provide[d] further explanation” for that action. App. to Pet. for Cert. 121a. Indeed, the Government’s subsequent request for reconsideration described the Nielsen Memorandum as “additional explanation for [Duke’s] decision” and asked the District Court to “leave in place [Duke’s] September 5, 2017 decision to rescind the DACA policy.” Motion to Revise Order in No. 17–cv–1907 etc. (D DC), pp. 2, 19. Contrary to the position of the Government before this Court, and of Justice Kavanaugh in dissent, post
, at 4 (opinion concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part), the Nielsen Memorandum was by its own terms not a new rule implementing a new policy.
Because Secretary Nielsen chose to elaborate on the reasons for the initial rescission rather than take new administrative action, she was limited to the agency’s original reasons, and her explanation “must be viewed critically” to ensure that the rescission is not upheld on the basis of impermissible “post hoc
rationalization.” Overton Park
, 401 U. S., at 420. But despite purporting to explain the Duke Memorandum, Secretary Nielsen’s reasoning bears little relationship to that of her predecessor. Acting Secretary Duke rested the rescission on the conclusion that DACA is unlawful. Period. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 117a. By contrast, Secretary Nielsen’s new memorandum offered three “separate and independently sufficient reasons” for the rescission, id.
, at 122a, only the first of which is the conclusion that DACA is illegal.
Her second reason is that DACA is, at minimum, legally questionable
and should be terminated to maintain public confidence in the rule of law and avoid burdensome litigation. No such justification can be found in the Duke Memorandum. Legal uncertainty is, of course, related to illegality. But the two justifications are meaningfully distinct, especially in this context. While an agency might, for one reason or another, choose to do nothing in the face of uncertainty, illegality presumably requires remedial action of some sort.
The policy reasons that Secretary Nielsen cites as a third basis for the rescission are also nowhere to be found in the Duke Memorandum. That document makes no mention of a preference for legislative fixes, the superiority of case-by-case decisionmaking, the importance of sending a message of robust enforcement, or any other policy consideration. Nor are these points included in the legal analysis from the Fifth Circuit and the Attorney General. They can be viewed only as impermissible post hoc
rationalizations and thus are not properly before us.
The Government, echoed by Justice Kavanaugh, protests that requiring a new decision before considering Nielsen’s new justifications would be “an idle and useless formality.” NLRB
v. Wyman-Gordon Co.
394 U.S. 759
, 766, n. 6 (1969) (plurality opinion). See also post
at 5. Procedural requirements can often seem such. But here the rule serves important values of administrative law. Requiring a new decision before considering new reasons promotes “agency accountability,” Bowen
v. American Hospital Assn.
476 U.S. 610
, 643 (1986), by ensuring that parties and the public can respond fully and in a timely manner to an agency’s exercise of authority. Considering only contemporaneous explanations for agency action also instills confidence that the reasons given are not simply “convenient litigating position[s].” Christopher
v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.
567 U.S. 142
, 155 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). Permitting agencies to invoke belated justifications, on the other hand, can upset “the orderly functioning of the process of review,” SEC
v. Chenery Corp.,
318 U.S. 80
, 94 (1943), forcing both litigants and courts to chase a moving target. Each of these values would be markedly undermined were we to allow DHS to rely on reasons offered nine months after Duke announced the rescission and after three different courts had identified flaws in the original explanation.
Justice Kavanaugh asserts that this “foundational principle of administrative law,” Michigan
, 576 U. S., at 758, actually limits only what lawyers may argue, not what agencies may do. Post
, at 5. While it is true that the Court has often rejected justifications belatedly advanced by advocates, we refer to this as a prohibition on post hoc
rationalizations, not advocate rationalizations, because the problem is the timing, not the speaker. The functional reasons for requiring contemporaneous explanations apply with equal force regardless whether post hoc
justifications are raised in court by those appearing on behalf of the agency or by agency officials themselves. See American Textile Mfrs. Institute, Inc.
452 U.S. 490
, 539 (1981) (“[T]he post hoc
rationalizations of the agency . . . cannot serve as a sufficient predicate for agency action.”); Overton Park
, 401 U. S., at 419 (rejecting “litigation affidavits” from agency officials as “merely ‘post hoc
Justice Holmes famously wrote that “[m]en must turn square corners when they deal with the Government.” Rock Island, A. & L. R. Co.
v. United States
254 U.S. 141
(1920). But it is also true, particularly when so much is at stake, that “the Government should turn square corners in dealing with the people.” St. Regis Paper Co.
v. United States
368 U.S. 208
, 229 (1961) (Black, J., dissenting). The basic rule here is clear: An agency must defend its actions based on the reasons it gave when it acted. This is not the case for cutting corners to allow DHS to rely upon reasons absent from its original decision.
We turn, finally, to whether DHS’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious. As noted earlier, Acting Secretary Duke’s justification for the rescission was succinct: “Taking into consideration” the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that DAPA was unlawful because it conferred benefits in violation of the INA, and the Attorney General’s conclusion that DACA was unlawful for the same reason, she concluded—without elaboration—that the “DACA program should be terminated.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 117a.[4
Respondents maintain that this explanation is deficient for three reasons. Their first and second arguments work in tandem, claiming that the Duke Memorandum does not adequately explain the conclusion that DACA is unlawful, and that this conclusion is, in any event, wrong. While those arguments carried the day in the lower courts, in our view they overlook an important constraint on Acting Secretary Duke’s decisionmaking authority—she was bound
by the Attorney General’s legal determination.
The same statutory provision that establishes the Secretary of Homeland Security’s authority to administer and enforce immigration laws limits that authority, specifying that, with respect to “all questions of law,” the determinations of the Attorney General “shall be controlling.”
8 U. S. C. §1103(a)(1). Respondents are aware of this constraint. Indeed they emphasized the point in the reviewability sections of their briefs. But in their merits arguments, respondents never addressed whether or how this unique statutory provision might affect our review. They did not discuss whether Duke was required to explain a legal conclusion that was not hers to make. Nor did they discuss whether the current suits challenging Duke’s rescission decision, which everyone agrees was within her legal authority under the INA, are proper vehicles for attacking the Attorney General’s legal conclusion.
Because of these gaps in respondents’ briefing, we do not evaluate the claims challenging the explanation and correctness of the illegality conclusion. Instead we focus our attention on respondents’ third argument—that Acting Secretary Duke “failed to consider . . . important aspect[s] of the problem” before her. Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States, Inc.
v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co.
463 U.S. 29
, 43 (1983).
Whether DACA is illegal is, of course, a legal determination, and therefore a question for the Attorney General. But deciding how best to address a finding of illegality moving forward can involve important policy choices, especially when the finding concerns a program with the breadth of DACA. Those policy choices are for DHS.
Acting Secretary Duke plainly exercised such discretionary authority in winding down the program. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 117a–118a (listing the Acting Secretary’s decisions on eight transition issues). Among other things, she specified that those DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months were eligible for two-year renewals. Ibid
But Duke did not appear to appreciate the full scope of her discretion, which picked up where the Attorney General’s legal reasoning left off. The Attorney General concluded that “the DACA policy has the same legal . . . defects that the courts recognized as to DAPA.” App. 878. So, to understand those defects, we look to the Fifth Circuit, the highest court to offer a reasoned opinion on the legality of DAPA. That court described the “core” issue before it as the “Secretary’s decision” to grant “eligibility for benefits”—including work authorization, Social Security, and Medicare—to unauthorized aliens on “a class-wide basis.” Texas
, 809 F. 3d, at 170; see id.,
at 148, 184. The Fifth Circuit’s focus on these benefits was central to every stage of its analysis. See id.,
at 155 (standing); id.
, at 163 (zone of interest); id.
, at 164 (applicability of §1252(g)); id.
, at 166 (reviewability); id.
, at 176–177 (notice and comment); id.
, at 184 (substantive APA). And the Court ultimately held that DAPA was “manifestly contrary to the INA” precisely because it “would make 4.3 million otherwise removable aliens” eligible for work authorization and public benefits. Id.
, at 181–182 (internal quotation marks omitted).[5
But there is more to DAPA (and DACA) than such benefits. The defining feature of deferred action is the decision to defer removal (and to notify the affected alien of that decision). See App. to Pet. for Cert. 99a. And the Fifth Circuit was careful to distinguish that forbearance component from eligibility for benefits. As it explained, the “challenged portion of DAPA’s deferred-action program” was the decision to make DAPA recipients eligible for benefits. See Texas
, 809 F. 3d, at 168, and n. 108. The other “[p]art of DAPA,” the court noted, “involve[d] the Secretary’s decision—at least temporarily—not to enforce the immigration laws as to a class of what he deem[ed] to be low-priority illegal aliens.” Id.
, at 166. Borrowing from this Court’s prior description of deferred action, the Fifth Circuit observed that “the states do not challenge the Secretary’s decision to ‘decline to institute proceedings, terminate proceedings, or decline to execute a final order of deportation.’ ” Id.
, at 168 (quoting Reno
, 525 U. S., at 484). And the Fifth Circuit underscored that nothing in its decision or the preliminary injunction “requires the Secretary to remove any alien or to alter” the Secretary’s class-based “enforcement priorities.” Texas
, 809 F. 3d, at 166, 169. In other words, the Secretary’s forbearance authority was unimpaired.
Acting Secretary Duke recognized that the Fifth Circuit’s holding addressed the benefits associated with DAPA. In her memorandum she explained that the Fifth Circuit concluded that DAPA “conflicted with the discretion authorized by Congress” because the INA “ ‘flatly does not permit the reclassification of millions of illegal aliens as lawfully present and thereby make them newly eligible for a host of federal and state benefits, including work authorization.’ ” App. to Pet. for Cert. 114a (quoting Texas
, 809 F. 3d, at 184). Duke did not characterize the opinion as one about forbearance.
In short, the Attorney General neither addressed the forbearance policy at the heart of DACA nor compelled DHS to abandon that policy. Thus, removing benefits eligibility while continuing forbearance remained squarely within the discretion of Acting Secretary Duke, who was responsible for “[e]stablishing national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.”
6 U. S. C. §202(5). But Duke’s memo offers no reason for terminating forbearance. She instead treated the Attorney General’s conclusion regarding the illegality of benefits as sufficient to rescind both benefits and forbearance, without explanation.
That reasoning repeated the error we identified in one of our leading modern administrative law cases, Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association of the United States, Inc.
v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
There, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promulgated a requirement that motor vehicles produced after 1982 be equipped with one of two passive restraints: airbags or automatic seatbelts. 463 U. S., at 37–38, 46. Four years later, before the requirement went into effect, NHTSA concluded that automatic seatbelts, the restraint of choice for most manufacturers, would not provide effective protection. Based on that premise, NHTSA rescinded the passive restraint requirement in full. Id.
, at 38.
We concluded that the total rescission was arbitrary and capricious. As we explained, NHTSA’s justification supported only “disallow[ing] compliance by means of ” automatic seatbelts. Id.
, at 47. It did “not cast doubt” on the “efficacy of airbag technology” or upon “the need for a passive restraint standard.” Ibid.
Given NHTSA’s prior judgment that “airbags are an effective and cost-beneficial lifesaving technology,” we held that “the mandatory passive restraint rule [could] not be abandoned without any consideration whatsoever of an airbags-only requirement.” Id.
, at 51.
While the factual setting is different here, the error is the same. Even if it is illegal for DHS to extend work authorization and other benefits to DACA recipients, that conclusion supported only “disallow[ing]” benefits. Id.
, at 47. It did “not cast doubt” on the legality of forbearance or upon DHS’s original reasons for extending forbearance to childhood arrivals. Ibid.
Thus, given DHS’s earlier judgment that forbearance is “especially justified” for “productive young people” who were brought here as children and “know only this country as home,”
App. to Pet. for Cert. 98a–99a, the DACA Memorandum could not be rescinded in full “without any consideration whatsoever” of a forbearance-only policy, State Farm
, 463 U. S., at 51.[6
The Government acknowledges that “[d]eferred action coupled with the associated benefits are the two legs upon which the DACA policy stands.” Reply Brief 21. It insists, however, that “DHS was not required to consider whether DACA’s illegality could be addressed by separating” the two. Ibid.
According to the Government, “It was not arbitrary and capricious for DHS to view deferred action and its collateral benefits as importantly linked.” Ibid.
Perhaps. But that response misses the point. The fact that there may be a valid reason not to separate deferred action from benefits does not establish that DHS considered that option or that such consideration was unnecessary.
The lead dissent acknowledges that forbearance and benefits are legally distinct and can be decoupled. Post
, at 21–22, n. 14 (opinion of Thomas, J). It contends, however, that we should not “dissect” agency action “piece by piece.” Post,
at 21. The dissent instead rests on the Attorney General’s legal determination—which considered only benefits—“to supply the ‘reasoned analysis’ ” to support rescission of both benefits and forbearance. Post,
at 22 (quoting State Farm
, 463 U. S., at 42). But State Farm
teaches that when an agency rescinds a prior policy its reasoned analysis must consider the “alternative[s]” that are “within the ambit of the existing [policy].” Id.
, at 51. Here forbearance was not simply “within the ambit of the existing [policy],” it was the centerpiece of the policy: DACA, after all, stands for “Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 111a (emphasis added). But the rescission memorandum contains no discussion of forbearance or the option of retaining forbearance without benefits. Duke “entirely failed to consider [that] important aspect of the problem.” State Farm
, 463 U. S., at 43.
That omission alone renders Acting Secretary Duke’s decision arbitrary and capricious. But it is not the only defect. Duke also failed to address whether there was “legitimate reliance” on the DACA Memorandum. Smiley
v. Citibank (South Dakota), N. A.
517 U.S. 735
, 742 (1996). When an agency changes course, as DHS did here, it must “be cognizant that longstanding policies may have ‘engendered serious reliance interests that must be taken into account.’ ” Encino Motorcars, LLC
, 579 U. S. ___, ___ (2016) (slip op., at 9) (quoting Fox Television
, 556 U. S., at 515). “It would be arbitrary and capricious to ignore such matters.” Id
., at 515. Yet that is what the Duke Memorandum did.
For its part, the Government does not contend that Duke considered potential reliance interests; it counters that she did not need to. In the Government’s view, shared by the lead dissent, DACA recipients have no “legally cognizable reliance interests” because the DACA Memorandum stated that the program “conferred no substantive rights” and provided benefits only in two-year increments. Reply Brief 16–17; App. to Pet. for Cert. 125a. See also post
, at 23–24 (opinion of Thomas, J). But neither the Government nor the lead dissent cites any legal authority establishing that such features automatically preclude reliance interests, and we are not aware of any. These disclaimers are surely pertinent in considering the strength of any reliance interests, but that consideration must be undertaken by the agency in the first instance, subject to normal APA review. There was no such consideration in the Duke Memorandum.
Respondents and their amici
assert that there was much for DHS to consider. They stress that, since 2012, DACA recipients have “enrolled in degree programs, embarked on careers, started businesses, purchased homes, and even married and had children, all in reliance” on the DACA program. Brief for Respondent Regents of Univ. of California et al. in No. 18–587, p. 41 (Brief for Regents). The consequences of the rescission, respondents emphasize, would “radiate outward” to DACA recipients’ families, including their 200,000 U. S.-citizen children, to the schools where DACA recipients study and teach, and to the employers who have invested time and money in training them. See id.
, at 41–42; Brief for Respondent State of New York et al. in No. 18–589, p. 42 (Brief for New York). See also Brief for 143 Businesses as Amici Curiae
17 (estimating that hiring and training replacements would cost employers $6.3 billion). In addition, excluding DACA recipients from the lawful labor force may, they tell us, result in the loss of $215 billion in economic activity and an associated $60 billion in federal tax revenue over the next ten years. Brief for Regents 6. Meanwhile, States and local governments could lose $1.25 billion in tax revenue each year. Ibid.
These are certainly noteworthy concerns, but they are not necessarily dispositive. To the Government and lead dissent’s point, DHS could respond that reliance on forbearance and benefits was unjustified in light of the express limitations in the DACA Memorandum. Or it might conclude that reliance interests in benefits that it views as unlawful are entitled to no or diminished weight. And, even if DHS ultimately concludes that the reliance interests rank as serious, they are but one factor to consider. DHS may determine, in the particular context before it, that other interests and policy concerns outweigh any reliance interests. Making that difficult decision was the agency’s job, but the agency failed to do it.
DHS has considerable flexibility in carrying out its responsibility. The wind-down here is a good example of the kind of options available. Acting Secretary Duke authorized DHS to process two-year renewals for those DACA recipients whose benefits were set to expire within six months. But Duke’s consideration was solely for the purpose of assisting the agency in dealing with “administrative complexities.”
App. to Pet. for Cert. 116a–118a. She should have considered whether she had similar flexibility in addressing any reliance interests of DACA recipients. The lead dissent contends that accommodating such interests would be “another exercise of unlawful power,” post
, at 23 (opinion of Thomas, J.), but the Government does not make that argument and DHS has already extended benefits for purposes other than reliance, following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. App. to Pet. for Cert. 116a.
Had Duke considered reliance interests, she might, for example, have considered a broader renewal period based on the need for DACA recipients to reorder their affairs. Alternatively, Duke might have considered more accommodating termination dates for recipients caught in the middle of a time-bounded commitment, to allow them to, say, graduate from their course of study, complete their military service, or finish a medical treatment regimen. Or she might have instructed immigration officials to give salient weight to any reliance interests engendered by DACA when exercising individualized enforcement discretion.
To be clear, DHS was not required to do any of this or to “consider all policy alternatives in reaching [its] decision.” State Farm
, 463 U. S., at 51. Agencies are not compelled to explore “every alternative device and thought conceivable by the mind of man.” Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp.
v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
435 U.S. 519
, 551 (1978). But, because DHS was “not writing on a blank slate,” post,
at 22, n. 14 (opinion of Thomas, J.), it was
required to assess whether there were reliance interests, determine whether they were significant, and weigh any such interests against competing policy concerns.
The lead dissent sees all the foregoing differently. In its view, DACA is illegal, so any actions under DACA are themselves illegal. Such actions, it argues, must cease immediately and the APA should not be construed to impede that result. See post
, at 19–23 (opinion of Thomas, J.).
The dissent is correct that DACA was rescinded because of the Attorney General’s illegality determination. See ante
, at 20. But nothing about that determination foreclosed or even addressed the options of retaining forbearance or accommodating particular reliance interests. Acting Secretary Duke should have considered those matters but did not. That failure was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA.
Lastly, we turn to respondents’ claim that the rescis- sion violates the equal protection guarantee of the
The parties dispute the proper framing of this claim. The Government contends that the allegation that the Executive, motivated by animus, ended a program that disproportionately benefits certain ethnic groups is a selective enforcement claim. Such a claim, the Government asserts, is barred by our decision in Reno
v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
. See 525 U. S., at 488 (holding that “an alien unlawfully in this country has no constitutional right to assert selective enforcement as a defense against his deportation”). Respondents counter that their claim falls outside the scope of that precedent because they are not challenging individual enforcement proceedings. We need not resolve this debate because, even if the claim is cognizable, the allegations here are insufficient.
To plead animus, a plaintiff must raise a plausible inference that an “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in the relevant decision. Arlington Heights
v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp.
429 U.S. 252
, 266 (1977). Possible evidence includes disparate impact on a particular group, “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence,” and “contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body.” Id.
, at 266–268. Tracking these factors, respondents allege that animus is evidenced by (1) the disparate impact of the rescission on Latinos from Mexico, who represent 78% of DACA recipients; (2) the unusual history behind the rescission; and (3) pre- and post-election statements by President Trump. Brief for New York 54–55.
None of these points, either singly or in concert, establishes a plausible equal protection claim. First, because Latinos make up a large share of the unauthorized alien population, one would expect them to make up an outsized share of recipients of any cross-cutting immigration relief program. See B. Baker, DHS, Office of Immigration Statistics, Population Estimates, Illegal Alien Population Residing in the United States: January 2015, Table 2 (Dec. 2018), https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ 18_1214_PLCY_pops-est-report.pdf. Were this fact sufficient to state a claim, virtually any generally applicable immigration policy could be challenged on equal protection grounds.
Second, there is nothing irregular about the history leading up to the September 2017 rescission. The lower courts concluded that “DACA received reaffirmation by [DHS] as recently as three months before the rescission,” 908 F. 3d, at 519 (quoting 298 F. Supp. 3d, at 1315), referring to the June 2017 DAPA rescission memo, which stated that DACA would “remain in effect,” App. 870. But this reasoning confuses abstention with reaffirmation. The DAPA memo did not address the merits of the DACA policy or its legality. Thus, when the Attorney General later determined that DACA shared DAPA’s legal defects, DHS’s decision to reevaluate DACA was not a “strange about-face.” 908 F. 3d, at 519. It was a natural response to a newly identified problem.
Finally, the cited statements are unilluminating. The relevant actors were most directly Acting Secretary Duke and the Attorney General. As the Batalla Vidal
court acknowledged, respondents did not “identif[y] statements by [either] that would give rise to an inference of discriminatory motive.” 291 F. Supp. 3d, at 278. Instead, respondents contend that President Trump made critical statements about Latinos that evince discriminatory intent. But, even as interpreted by respondents, these statements—remote in time and made in unrelated contexts—do not qualify as “contemporary statements” probative of the decision at issue. Arlington Heights
, 429 U. S., at 268. Thus, like respondents’ other points, the statements fail to raise a plausible inference that the rescission was motivated by animus.
* * *
We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. “The wisdom” of those decisions “is none of our concern.” Chenery II
, 332 U. S., at 207. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner. The appropriate recourse is therefore to remand to DHS so that it may consider the problem anew.
The judgment in NAACP
, No. 18–588, is affirmed.[7
] The judgment in Regents
, No. 18–587, is vacated in part and reversed in part. And in Batalla Vidal
, No. 18–589, the February 13, 2018 order granting respondents’ motion for a preliminary injunction is vacated, the November 9, 2017 order partially denying the Government’s motion to dismiss is affirmed in part, and the March 29, 2018 order partially denying the balance of the Government’s motion to dismiss is reversed in part. All three cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.