Donald Trump has been having a rough go of it in the nation’s highest court. A year ago, he lost the biggest case of last year’s Supreme Court term—a challenge to his addition of a citizenship question to the census. This week, Trump lost what is so far the biggest case of this Court term—a challenge to his termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows Dreamers to remain, study, and work in America on renewable permits. Both rulings found that the president had violated a law called the Administrative Procedure Act.
This sounds technical, and Trump’s defenders are trying to paint it that way. It isn’t. Trump keeps losing not because of something obscure, but because of something fundamental: his abuse of the executive branch. Much of his administration’s approach to governance rests on attempting executive actions that lack any meaningful justification rooted in expertise, or even rational thought.
Trump lost the citizenship-question case last year in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts. The secretary of commerce, who oversees the census, had claimed, preposterously, that the question was added to enforce the Voting Rights Act (despite the fact that the Trump administration, unlike its predecessors, had never enforced the Voting Rights Act). In the Supreme Court, it was ultimately revealed that this chronology was backwards, and that the Justice Department had never asked for such help until the commerce secretary pressured it into making such a request. Moreover, Commerce Department experts had warned that adding the citizenship question wouldn’t help to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and would actually harm the accuracy of the census results. The chief justice concluded: “Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the [Commerce] Secretary gave for his decision.” Allowing that pretext to stand, the chief justice explained, would defeat a fundamental legal principle, namely that courts should peer past phony reasons and demand the real impetus for agency action: “Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise.”