O C F I T B L O G Legal Federal Court Rejects Texas’s Argument that Illegal Migration Qualifies as “Invasion”

Federal Court Rejects Texas’s Argument that Illegal Migration Qualifies as “Invasion”

Federal Court Rejects Texas’s Argument that Illegal Migration Qualifies as “Invasion” post thumbnail image

Migrants wait to be processed at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas
Migrants wait to be processed at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Miguel Juarez Lugo/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom)


Earlier today, as Orin Kerr notes, federal district court Judge David Alan Ezra issued a decision holding—among other things—that illegal migration does not qualify as “invasion” under the Constitution. Article I, § 10, Clause 3 of the Constitution states that “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” Texas claims that undocumented migration and cross-border illegal drug smuggling qualify as an invasion under this Clause, and therefore authorize Texas to “engage in war” in response, including taking measures that would otherwise be barred by federal statute.

In this case, Texas is defending the legality of SB 4, a news state law that criminalizes unauthorized migration and gives Texas state courts the authority to order removal of migrants convicted under the law. If Texas’s invasion argument fails, SB 4 might be preempted by federal law.

Judge Ezra’s ruling is far from the first court decision to conclude that illegal migration is not invasion. There have been several previous such cases, including three appellate court decisions, and Judge Ezra’s own recent ruling in United States v. Abbott, a case where the federal government is suing  Texas for installing floating buoy barriers in the Rio Grande River in violation of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (that decision was upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but the case is now under review by the en banc Fifth Circuit.

But today’s opinion is by far the most thorough judicial analysis of this important issue. Judge Ezra outlines extensive evidence indicating that the text and original meaning of the the Constitution indicates that only an armed attack qualifies as “invasion”:

Ultimately, all tools of constitutional construction cut against Texas’s position.  Contemporary definitions of “invasion” and “actually invaded” as well as common usage of the term in the late Eighteenth Century predominantly referred to an “invasion” as a hostile and organized military force, too powerful to be dealt with by ordinary judicial proceedings. This Court could not locate a single contemporaneous use of the term to refer to surges in unauthorized foreign immigration. The text and structure of the State War Clause imply that “invasion” was to be used sparingly for temporary, exigent, and dangerous circumstances. Put simply, the overwhelming textual and historical evidence does not support Texas’s understanding of the State War Clause.

As James Madison put it in his Report of 1800, “Invasion is an operation of war.” Judge Ezra extensively canvasses the ratification debates and other Founding-era evidence. He also highlights the radical implications of Texas’s position, which woul effectively allow  states to usurp the federal government’s war powers “whenever they disagreed with federal immigration policy.” If it is correct, Texas and other states could “engage in war” against neighboring countries anytime there is substantial illegal migration, which i has been the case at almost all times, ever since the US government first imposed significant immigration restrictions applying to migrants crossing the southern border. Thus, Texas would be free to, for example, use its state National Guard to attack Mexico in order to forestall illegal migration and drug smuggling from there.

Judge Ezra’s ruling is also the first to highlight the dire implications of the equation of immigration and invasion for the writ of habeas corpus:

Article 1, Section 9 mentions “invasion” to note that the “Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Id. art. 1, § 9, cl. 2. The suspension of habeas corpus is a stunning exercise of power. The Writ of Habeas Corpus has been suspended only four times in this country’s history: the Civil War,….. KKK insurrections during Reconstruction, a guerilla war in the Philippines, and in Hawaii during World War II…. These examples show that the Writ of Habeas Corpus has only ever been suspended in the face of imminent and overwhelming violent direct threats to the stability of the state or federal government….

Unauthorized immigration is not akin to armed and organized insurrection against the government. Even as Texas points to cartel violence, it cannot maintain in good faith that the cartels will imminently overthrow the state government. Nor can the mere presence of ongoing organized crime, which has long existed in the United States, suffice to justify the suspension of habeas corpus. Despite the serious threat to public safety that cartels may pose, it is difficult to accept that the threat is so severe as to justify the wholesale suspension of Due Process rights in Texas.

Indeed, British suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was a leading concern among American Revolutionaries and carefully limited by the Framers in the Constitution…. For that reason, the Framers drafted the Constitution such that the writ could be suspended only in times of great emergency….

It is not plausible that the Framers, so cognizant of past abuses of the writ and so careful to protect against future abuses, would have granted states the unquestioned authority to suspend the writ based on the presence of undocumented immigrants.

I have previously highlighted this issue myself: If immigration or drug smuggling by cartels qualify as “invasion,” the writ of habeas corpus could be suspended at virtually any time, since such activity is virtually always ongoing (at least since the establishment of severe migration restrictions and the War on Drugs).

Judge Ezra also argues that, if illegal migration did qualify as “invasion” states’ efforts to “engage in war” in response would still be subject to federal restrictions, under Congress’s own war powers, once federal forces are able to reach the scene of the attack. I am less certain of the correctness of this claim than I am about his the arguments. If a state is indeed “actually invaded,” it seems to me it would have at least some substantial authority to “engage in war” that the federal government cannot override, even if federal  troops are also helping to repel the invasion.

There is more to Judge Ezra’s analysis of the invasion issue. Anyone interested in this important constitutional question should read the entire section of his careful opinion devoted to this question (pp. 65-98).  It’s a true tour de force. For those who care, Judge Ezra is a Republican Reagan appointee.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he plans to appeal the decision. And the invasion question may also soon be considered by the en banc Fifth Circuit. We probably haven’t heard the last of this issue. But hopefully appellate courts will reach the same conclusion as Judge Ezra.

Today’s ruling also includes analysis of other issues in the SB 4 case, especially arguments about whether the law is preempted by federal immigration statutes (Judge Ezra concludes it is).

I have previously written about why illegal migration doesn’t qualify as “invasion” here, here, here, and here.

The post Federal Court Rejects Texas's Argument that Illegal Migration Qualifies as "Invasion" appeared first on Reason.com.

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