Second Circuit Exercises Discretion to Scale Nationwide Injunction of “Public Charge Rule” Back to Geographic Scope of Circuit

In New York v. United States Dep’t of Homeland Sec., No. 19-3595 (2d Cir. Aug. 4, 2020), the Second Circuit joins the roiling debate about the authority of federal district courts to enter nationwide injunctions against the federal government.

The panel affirms a preliminary injunction entered against the Trump Administration’s 2019 amendments to the “public charge rule.” The amendments broadly reinterpret 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to reduce the number of people entering the United States who may be eligible for green cards and other visas.

The three states of the Second Circuit – Connecticut, New York, and Vermont – brought this action jointly, challenging the rule under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The rule has been subject to various lawsuits and injunctions, including multiple trips to the U.S. Supreme Court where a stay of the previous injunctions was granted.

While affirming the injunction, the panel scales back the effect of the injunction only to the three plaintiff states. Noting the “increasing scrutiny” federal courts have given nationwide injunctions, the panel rehearses the arguments on both sides. On the one hand, favoring plaintiffs, the invalidation of a rule under the APA ordinarily means the rule is vacated in its entirety; there is also “the interest in a uniform immigration policy.” “On the other hand, we share DHS’s concern that a district judge issuing a nationwide injunction may in effect override contrary decisions from co-equal and appellate courts, imposing its view of the law within the geographic jurisdiction of courts that have reached contrary conclusions.”

The panel recognizes that nationwide injunctions “may be an appropriate remedy in certain circumstances – for example, where only a single case challenges the action or where multiple courts have spoken unanimously on the issue.” But in situations such as this, where “contrary views could be or have been taken by courts of parallel or superior authority” around the country, “we encourage district courts to consider crafting preliminary injunctions that anticipate the possibility of conflict with other courts and provide for such a contingency. Such approaches could take the form of limiting language providing that the injunction would not supersede contrary rulings of other courts, an invitation to the parties to return and request modification as the situation changes, or the limitation of the injunction to the situation of particular plaintiffs or to similarly situated persons within the geographic jurisdiction of the court.”

Rather than remand the case, the panel exercises its “own discretion, in light of the divergent decisions that have emerged in our sister circuits since the district court entered its orders, to modify the injunction, limiting it to the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont …. We see no need for a broader injunction at this point, particularly in light of the somewhat unusual posture of this case, namely that the preliminary injunction has already been stayed by the Supreme Court, not only through our disposition of the case, but also through the disposition of DHS’s petition for a writ of certiorari, should DHS seek review of this decision.”

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