Phillips: Why Criner has all-white jury in UT murder case, and not jury of peers

 

Potential jurors are sworn in before jury selection in the capital murder case of Meechaiel Criner, the transient man accused of killing University of Texas student Haruka Weiser in April 2016, in District Judge David Wahlberg’s 167th district court Monday July 9, 2018.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Travis County prosecutor Rickey Jones concedes an all-white jury is far from ideal in a case in which the defendant is an African American, who would be sentenced to life without parole if he is found guilty of the capital murder charge he faces.

“It doesn’t look like a jury of one’s peers,” he told me. “People – especially African Americans — notice those things and raise questions.”

Those are the very questions Jones wants to avoid, not just in the current high-profile case in which Meechaiel Criner is on trial for killing and sexually assaulting University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, but in felony criminal cases that involve lengthy prison sentences.

Criner, 20, has pleaded not guilty to the 2016 crime on UT’s campus. He would spend the rest of his life in prison if the all-white jury finds him guilty.

Jury selection in the case brought into focus the deep distrust people of color harbor about the criminal justice system. Along with other challenges (such as concerns about missing time from work or not having child care) that affect most people’s ability to serve on juries, the belief that the criminal justice system discriminates against African American and Latinos makes it tough to seat them on juries, Jones said.

READ: Meechaiel Criner trial: Race at issue in second day of jury selection

That kind of revelation coming from a prosecutor is uncommon. But Jones, assistant director of the trial division for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, knows something of the difficulties in seating blacks on a jury. He worked as a criminal defense lawyer for 23 years before joining the DA’s Office. From that perch, Jones got an up-close look at the jury-selection system.

In many cases, including Criner’s, Jones said it was not mostly prosecutors striking blacks from the jury, but blacks taking themselves out of jury selection because they don’t trust the criminal justice system can be fair to African Americans. While jurors publicly uttering those beliefs during jury selection can be rehabilitated by a defense lawyer, prosecutor or judge, it’s the next step that disqualifies so many African Americans, he said.

“If they have this belief (about the criminal justice system), I can put that aside if they say they can be fair in this case,” Jones explained.

“If they say, ‘no,’ they can’t be fair in this case, then that is the end of it because that is the law.”

Jones said that is the step that eliminates minority jurors. He has witnessed many African Americans come right out and say that they would be unable to be impartial in assessing evidence and deciding sentencing of a black defendant charged with a serious felony.

“That is where we lose our black jurors,” he said. “We can’t rehabilitate them after that.”

Jones doesn’t deny that African Americans have good reason to believe the deck is stacked against them when it comes to the criminal justice system. The many exonerations by juries of police officers for shooting and killing unarmed African Americans under questionable circumstances are a case in point.

Then there are the patterns and practices of too many prosecutors who have been known to strike African Americans from juries because of their race, particularly in serious felony or death penalty cases involving black defendants. Such practices spurred the U.S. Supreme court to bar racial discrimination in the selection of juries.

In Texas, such practices were unearthed in 1986 by The Dallas Morning News which cited a 1963 internal memo in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office directing prosecutors when picking juries not to take “Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated.”

Such behavior by Dallas prosecutors continued, according to an analysis by the Morning News that showed as recently as 2002, Dallas County prosecutors were excluding eligible black prospects from juries at more than twice the rate they excluded whites.

RELATED: Study: Blacks routinely excluded from juries

A study reported by NPR in 2010 showed ongoing discriminatory tactics by prosecutors.

Bryan Stevenson’s nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative detailed widespread discrimination in the selection of jurors across the Deep South. One of the most troubling reasons prosecutors cited for dismissing black jurors, Stevenson said, were assertions about their intelligence, even though many of those potential jurors were college graduates.

Those dynamics continue, including in the Criner case.

One African American was struck for having a felony background, as required by law. Another was struck by a prosecutor who questioned his fitness to serve because a questionnaire he answered had many confusing answers, Jones said.

But three of the other four blacks were dismissed because they were unable to follow the law regarding impartiality and fairness because of their views regarding the criminal justice system, Jones said. The fourth was let go for similar causes because of her views that the criminal justice system treats people with mental disabilities unfairly.

Aside from losing those potential jurors, another Travis County minority resident, who said he recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen, stated that during his time living in the country he has come to believe that minorities accused of a crime do not get fair trials. He, too, was dismissed.

With that, the standard – a jury of one’s peers – fell. An all-white jury was seated.

Jones believes things must change to prevent further erosion of public trust. He is right.

That has got to start with African Americans not opting out of jury service because of their legitimate beliefs about discrimination in the criminal justice system. Having those beliefs is OK, but as jurors, they must be impartial in assessing a defendant’s guilt or innocence regardless of his or her race.

Preventing unfair or unjust verdicts and sentencing requires sacrifice in giving one’s time to jury service when called. And it requires fairness from prosecutors in not using lame excuses to strike qualified people of color to justify keeping African Americans and other minorities off juries.

 

Do you agree with Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim countries?

Demonstrators gather in solidarity against President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspending the nation’s refugee program Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, outside City Hall in Cincinnati. In addition, earlier in the day Mayor John Cranley declared Cincinnati a "sanctuary city," meaning city will not enforce federal immigration laws against people who are here illegally, in keeping with current policy. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators in Cincinnati gather on January 30 in solidarity against President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. and suspending the nation’s refugee program (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Unsurprisingly, criticism of President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States has been swift and harsh.

There’s enough in the ban to criticize: From the void of American values of defending the marginalized “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to the legally questionable practice of targeting and discrimination of a single religious group. It may be billed as a tool against terrorism, but the danger in its text serves more as a fan to inflame radical-Islamic enemies.

Critics – as well as thousands of protestors across the country, including here in Austin – aren’t standing idly by.

The New York Times, just one of many editorial boards across the nation quick to call out Trump on the order, calls the ban a “bigoted, cowardly, self-defeating policy.”

And then points out that the “breathtaking in scope and inflammatory in tone” order issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less, lacks any logic. “It invokes the attacks of Sept. 11 as a rationale, while exempting the countries of origin of all the hijackers who carried out that plot and also, perhaps not coincidentally, several countries where the Trump family does business.”

Civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Jesse Jackson makes similar comments and adds that Trump’s policy will make it more dangerous for American Muslims here in the U.S. while it also makes for excellent ISIS recruitment material.

“The real problem is that the unintended consequences are likely to be far more dangerous than doing nothing. For ISIS and al-Qaida, the order is a gift. It feeds their argument that the Muslim world is facing a war on Islam led by the Great Satan (the U.S.) intent on persecuting Muslims.

“The anger and hatred generated will make it more difficult for moderate Muslim leaders to cooperate with the U.S. At home, a Muslim community under siege — and faced with rising hate crimes — is likely to become more closed, not less, and less cooperative, not more. If we will not respect their rights and security, they will be less likely to be concerned for ours,” Jackson wrote.

Not everyone, however, is a critic.

Jack Hunter, of the conservative-libertarian Rare.us, points out the hypocrisy in some of Trump’s critics regarding the ban.

“Why is this kind of outrage seemingly now just limited to Donald Trump?”

He says, for example, “The Los Angeles Times featured a story on Sunday about Alexander Gutierrez Garcia, who fled an oppressive dictatorship to seek refugee status in the United States, but unfortunately for him America’s president issued an executive order that denied him entry.

“That order came from President Barack Obama.”

Hunter continues: “So many of those outraged right now — and rightly — generally liked Obama. They trusted him. Now, similarly, Trump supporters will defend this president’s actions, no matter how much harm he causes, because they like and trust him too.

“But shouldn’t other people’s pain come before partisanship? …Shouldn’t lending our moral support or outrage be based on something more than merely what presidents we like?”

Plenty of others have and will weigh in on the issue. And no doubt, some of those opinions will make it onto our Viewpoint pages. But right now, we want to know what YOU think of all of this by taking our single-question poll (above and below).

Your Supreme Court Monday: Texas, Obama and immigration

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Gov. Greg Abbott, in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued the Obama administration in November 2014 to block its effort to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the case Monday morning. (JAY JANNER / 2014 AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Texas, the immigration case that began in November 2014 when President Barack Obama protected from deportation as many as 5 million immigrants in the country illegally, including the undocumented parents of American citizens or permanent residents. Then-Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued the federal government to keep Obama’s policy from taking effect.

Twenty-five states joined Texas in opposing the president, and over the next several months, a U.S. district judge in Brownsville and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans blocked Obama’s policy from taking effect. So the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, and in January the court agreed to do so.

I have written about United States v. Texas previously on this blog. Here’s a quick review of the questions to be argued today before the Supreme Court.

Standing: Before the court’s justices can consider any larger, constitutional question they must answer whether Texas and the other 25 states have “standing” to sue the federal government. Simply disliking a federal program does not give states the right to challenge it in court. Direct harm must be suffered to seek legal relief. Texas argues that costs associated with issuing driver’s licenses to a group of undocumented immigrants granted temporary legal status would directly harm it.

Conservatives usually view standing restrictively. The case could end here but no one expects that to happen.

Procedural:  Another question involves whether the Obama administration failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving the public sufficient notice of its immigration change along with the opportunity to comment on it. This technical, procedural detail is frequently overlooked in most discussions of the case, but it offers the justices a path toward a narrow decision.

Executive authority: The big question in United States v. Texas is whether the president’s actions violate the Constitution’s requirement that he “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Only Congress can make law, but the president has “prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to enforcing the laws — a view the Supreme Court and lower federal courts historically have supported. The immigrants in question in U.S. v. Texas remain undocumented and subject to deportation; in simple terms, the Obama administration wants to defer action against them to focus on immigrants who pose a threat. Texas accepts that the administration has discretion. The state argues, however, that the administration should practice its discretion case by case rather than by issuing a sweeping executive order.

Four years ago, in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court essentially confirmed the argument the Obama administration is making in today’s Texas case. “A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-3 majority. “Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime.”

A decision in U.S. v. Texas is expected to arrive in June, a few weeks before Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions in mid- and late July. A 4-4 tie would let stand the lower court rulings and would block Obama’s programs from taking effect.

Even if the Supreme Court rules in Obama’s favor, his administration will have less than seven months to implement its policy before the next president assumes office. So Obama’s policy lives or dies not only with the court, but also with the next president.

 

 

 

‘An exemplary judge’ for the Supreme Court, not that Republicans care

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Judge Merrick Garland speaks at the White House on Wednesday after being introduced by President Barack Obama as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

As President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, visited Democratic Sens. Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stuck to his position that he would not be holding “a perfunctory meeting” with the appeals court judge. A handful of more mannerly Senate Republicans have said they are open to meeting Garland.

No meetings. No hearing. No vote. Let the people have their say in November. The Republican position on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was expressed in a flurry of statements released Wednesday after Obama introduced Garland:

“Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released by his office. “The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next president to make the nomination to fill this vacancy.”

Though members of the U.S. House have no constitutional role in the confirmation of Supreme Court justices, Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin released his own statement, saying,Sen. Cornyn and the Republican leadership in the Senate are correct in their decision to not confirm President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. The precedent has been set for decades, and was continued by Vice President Biden when he was in the Senate, that the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court nomination in an election year. The American people should have a voice in the direction of the court. They will have the opportunity to be heard at the ballot box in November.”

Obama is not technically a lame duck, which is how Republicans have framed their argument that the seat on the Supreme Court unexpectedly left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Feb. 13 should be filled only after November’s presidential election. Yes, a lame duck is an elected official whose time in office is nearing its end, but traditionally, an elected official becomes a lame duck only after voters elect his successor.

If this debate were happening eight months from now, in mid-November — or maybe even in July or August after each party has selected its presidential nominee — I would agree with the Republicans’ argument that we should let the next president choose Scalia’s successor. But government is meant to act on what voters have done, not on what they might do. Obama is president for another 308 days and the election is 236 days away. There is plenty of time to hold a confirmation hearing and a vote on Garland’s nomination.

Vice President Joe Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995. In a June 1992 Senate speech, he said the Judiciary Committee should “seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings” for a Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.

Some context to Biden’s remarks, and context matters because it explains Biden’s speech: There was no vacancy on the Supreme Court that Biden was addressing; he was speaking hypothetically in the wake of the contentious Clarence Thomas hearings (which Biden had badly mishandled, I must add); the first of the presidential nominating conventions was only a month away; and should “seriously consider” is not the same as “won’t consider.” By no means was Biden announcing any “rule” that senators shouldn’t consider Supreme Court nominations in a presidential election year.

In choosing Garland, Obama has offered Republicans someone who should be, by any reasonable measure, a consensus nominee. Garland is 63, the oldest Supreme Court nominee in 45 years, so his stay on the court might not equal the generational stay of a nominee a decade or more younger. He is a former federal prosecutor with a reputation as a law-and-order centrist. Thirty-two Republicans voted in 1997 to confirm Garland’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a court over which he currently presides. He is a judge whom Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah once said could be confirmed to the Supreme Court “virtually unanimously.”

There is no apparent reason to reject Garland, whom Obama on Wednesday called “a serious man and an exemplary judge.” He deserves a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a confirmation vote. And if the Republicans want to reject his nomination, that’s their constitutional right. But not acting on his nomination violates the spirit of the Constitution.

Politically, having cultivated a sense of betrayal in their constituents for decades, Republicans have locked themselves into an obstructionist corner — out of which they probably will crawl if Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November. Because they know there is no good reason to reject Garland.

Any Supreme Court nominee of Obama’s is no nominee of theirs

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Texas Sen. John Cornyn, right, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speak with reporters on Tuesday. Senate Republicans say they will not consider anyone President Barack Obama nominates to the Supreme Court. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

So now Senate Republicans are saying they won’t even meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Tuesday to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, assuring the Kentucky senator that they would not schedule any hearings to consider any Obama nominee, no matter whom he or she might be and no matter how qualified. Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both committee members, signed the letter.

News that Scalia had died Feb. 13 in West Texas was less than 90 minutes old when McConnell vowed that Republicans would not consider an Obama nominee to the Supreme Court. Early last week, however, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated he might be willing to hold a confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate after McConnell, also did not rule out scheduling a confirmation hearing.

Well, that was last week. Hints of some leeway have been replaced by a doubling down on obstruction. At a news conference Tuesday announcing their intent to ignore Obama’s nominee, several Senate Republicans said they wouldn’t even meet with whomever Obama chooses. Forget a confirmation hearing; they wouldn’t even say hello. See no nominee. Hear no nominee. Speak no nominee’s name. “I don’t see the point of going through the motions if we know what the outcome is going to be,” Cornyn said.

Courtesy has now fallen victim to Washington’s political divide.

Word floated out Wednesday that the Obama administration was vetting Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s Hispanic Republican governor and a former federal district judge, as Scalia’s possible replacement. The Republican response in the Senate? Doesn’t matter who Obama nominates; he or she will be ignored.

Senate Republicans have turned to history to try to cloak their refusal. “Not since 1932 has the Senate confirmed in a presidential election year a Supreme Court nominee to a vacancy arising in that year,” the Judiciary Committee’s Republican letter says. “And it is necessary to go even further back — to 1888 — in order to find an election year nominee who was nominated and confirmed under divided government, as we have now.”

There’s a reason this part of the committee’s letter is so intricately constructed. Because the precedent it cites, such as it is, is largely meaningless.

Supreme Court justices rarely die in office, at least not any more. Only seven of the 46 justices who have served since 1900 died in office, and only one, William Rehnquist in 2005, has died since 1954. And justices even more rarely die during an election year.

But election-year vacancies do occur. Take 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican running for re-election, picked William Brennan to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton. It seems amazing now, but only 39 days went by from Minton’s retirement announcement on Sept. 7 — two months before that year’s election on Nov. 6 — to Brennan taking his seat on the court on Oct. 16, three weeks before the election.

Oh, OK, technically Brennan was a recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Eisenhower and the Democratic-controlled Senate made Brennan’s membership on the court formal and permanent in early 1957 after Eisenhower officially began his second term. The point is, Eisenhower replaced Minton less than a month before the 1956 presidential election and no one screamed that he had no right to do so. Because he perfectly had the right to do so. He was the sitting president. But the Democrats of 1956 aren’t the Republicans of 2016, are they?

Never before have the members of an opposition party used an approaching election as a reason to turn their backs on a Supreme Court nominee, name unknown, sight unseen. And in choosing to ignore Obama’s nominee, Senate Republicans are choosing to deliberately leave the court short a member not only for the rest of this term, which can’t be helped, but effectively for the court’s next term, too.

In their letter, the members of the Judiciary Committee said their decision not to hold a confirmation hearing was “based on constitutional principle and born of a necessity to protect the will of the American people.” Baloney. Protecting the will of the American people has nothing to do with it. This obstruction is about diminishing a president they have never accepted as legitimate. It also is about protecting the Republican majority in the Senate by protecting vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election in blue states from having to cast a controversial vote on a Supreme Court nominee.

And it’s about gambling that the next president will be a Republican who not only will keep Scalia’s seat conservative, but also will swing the court further to the right should another vacancy occur before the next presidential election in 2020. The next president potentially could be picking replacements for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turns 83 on March 15; Anthony Kennedy, who is 79; and Stephen Breyer, 77. Scalia was 79 when he died.

The American people expressed their will when they re-elected Obama in 2012 and they did it again two years later when they elected a Republican majority in the Senate. Our government is designed to function based on what voters have done, not on what they might do. That’s why it is Obama’s constitutional duty to nominate Scalia’s replacement, and that is why Senate Republicans have the Constitution on their side if they want to reject Obama’s nominee.

But first they should play their part seriously and sincerely. There’s nothing constitutionally principled about a predetermined outcome.

 

Speaking of the Constitution’s original intent …

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The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The first alert from The Associated Press confirming that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died while in West Texas to hunt quail moved on the news wires Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Less than 90 minutes later, at 5:54 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to Scalia’s death also moved on the wires.

“Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” McConnell’s statement read. Additional praise for Scalia’s “fidelity to the Constitution” followed as did McConnell’s condolences to Scalia’s family.

Then this obstructionist conclusion: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”

Senate Republicans quickly echoed McConnell, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying he would filibuster any Supreme Court nominee made by President Barack Obama, sight unseen, qualifications ignored. But on Tuesday, some “modest backtracking,” as The New York Times described it. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated he would be willing to hold a confirmation hearing for whomever Obama nominates to replace Scalia. On Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, also did not rule out holding a hearing for Obama’s nominee, though he said he agrees with McConnell that the next president should pick Scalia’s replacement and doesn’t think the Senate should confirm anyone Obama nominates.

Obama is president for another 338 days. He has, as he repeated during a news conference Tuesday, a constitutional obligation to nominate someone to take Scalia’s place. The Senate, likewise, has its own constitutional duty to consider Obama’s nominee and either accept or reject the president’s choice. With Republicans holding an 11-9 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee — Cruz also sits on the committee, along with Cornyn — and with Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the Senate 54-46, the odds would appear to favor rejection.

The Supreme Court is about halfway through its current term, which ends in June. Four major cases out of Texas — on abortion, voting rights, affirmative action and presidential power — are currently before the court, their outcomes now potentially altered by Scalia’s death.

The court begins its 2016-17 term in October. The earliest the next president could nominate Scalia’s replacement is Jan. 20, 2017, when he or she assumes office. The Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee; on average, the Senate confirmed the last four justices to be appointed to the court — John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — 64 days after they were nominated.

Leaving Scalia’s vacancy to the next president to fill means leaving the court one member short for an unprecedented length of time. But who cares for precedent? Or that which was once considered routine? Since they retook control of the Senate in January 2015, Republicans have been negligently and unprecedentedly blocking Obama’s nominees to the federal courts of appeal. So threatening to block Obama on naming Scalia’s replacement continues an action already being done at a lower court level.

McConnell’s statement forms a bookend to the agreement reached by several Republican congressional leaders on the night of Obama’s inauguration to oppose the new president on everything he proposed, no matter what. That determination was reinforced by McConnell in October 2010 when he told the National Journal that Republicans were motivated to make Obama a one-term president.

Their failure to defeat Obama four years ago is why Scalia’s replacement is Obama’s to nominate. And Republicans’ success in the midterm elections two years ago is why Obama’s nomination is theirs to consider. That’s how it’s meant to work, election year or no. The Constitution — that “timeless document that unites each of us as Americans,” to quote one Mitch McConnell — says so.

Immigration and the Supreme Court: A politically charged caseload, amplified

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Supporters of President Barack Obama’s immigration policies march around the Governor’s Mansion during a November 2015 immigration reform rally. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sometime in June, arriving a few weeks before Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions in mid- and late July, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a series of rulings sure to fire up or anger — or fire up and anger — each parties’ candidates and hardcore supporters. Pending before the court’s justices are cases involving affirmative action and abortion, the meaning of “one person, one vote,” and, as of this week, the authority of the president to enforce or not enforce immigration law. And all of these cases came to the court courtesy of Texas or Texans.

Yee oyez haw.

In November 2014, President Barack Obama protected from deportation the parents of American citizens or permanent residents to allow them, as Obama said, to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.” Obama also expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that he initiated in June 2012 to help immigrants younger than 30 who were brought to the United States as children remain in the only country many of them have ever really known. The president’s actions were set to allow perhaps as many as 5 million unauthorized immigrants to remain and work in the United States. Gov. Greg Abbott, then in his waning days as Texas attorney general, sued to keep Obama’s policy from taking effect; 25 states joined Texas in opposing the president.

A U.S. district judge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the policy’s implementation. So the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, and on Tuesday the justices agreed to do so. The court is expected to hear oral arguments in April, with a decision, as noted, probably coming in June. Because immigration is a top and contentious presidential issue, coverage of the court’s decision this week has been framed as an “election-year clash,” to cite The Associated Press as one example. Even if the Supreme Court justices rule in Obama’s favor — precedent suggests they should — his administration will have less than seven months to implement its policy before the next president assumes office. So Obama’s policy lives or dies not only with the court, but also with the next president.

The Supreme Court will consider four questions in the United States v. Texas, as the immigration case is formally known. (Detailed, clear explanations both lawyerly and in “plain English” of the legal issues involved can be found on SCOTUSblog, here and here.) A summary:

The first question is whether Texas and the other 25 states have “standing” to sue the federal government. Clearly the states disagree with Obama’s policy, but simply disliking a federal program does not give states the right to challenge it in court. Direct harm must be suffered to seek legal relief.

Last February, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville ruled that costs associated with granting temporary legal status to a group of undocumented immigrants — Hanen highlighted the issuance of driver’s licenses — would directly harm Texas. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit affirmed Hanen’s ruling, 2-1, in November.

The Supreme Court could deny Texas standing and end the case without considering any other question. But I don’t think anyone expects that to happen.

Another question involves whether the Obama administration failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving the public sufficient notice of its immigration change along with the opportunity to comment on it. Hanen based his decision blocking Obama’s action on this technical, procedural issue, a detail most news stories skipped past this week.

The final two questions are related if not redundant. They certainly are politically charged. Does the Obama administration have the authority to issue a new immigration policy? And did the president’s actions violate the Constitution’s requirement that he “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Only Congress, of course, can make law, but the president has “prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to enforcing the laws. Limited resources dictate the administration set priorities. So Obama decided to defer action against one group of undocumented immigrants to focus on other groups, like immigrants who pose a public safety threat, for example. Texas accepts that the administration has discretion to enforce the law, but only case by case, not by issuing a sweeping policy.

Neither Hanen nor the 5th Circuit addressed the constitutionality of Obama’s policy. The Supreme Court added this question to its review at the states’ request. The court rarely considers issues not taken up by a lower court.

As The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote this week, the United States v. Texas is one of those cases that threatens to scramble the usual ideological positions. The issue of standing is one example: Conservatives view it narrowly, liberals more broadly. But this case could reverse those traditional positions. “If the Court splits along its customary ideological lines — the conservatives against Obama, the liberals for him — the case may serve as another illustration that politics, rather than precedent, is the real currency of the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, whether the courts rule with the president or against him, the country’s immigration system will still need reform. And on immigration, Congress continues to show it can’t even work with itself, much less the president.