Joe Arpaio's Suit Against Obama's Immigration Policies Dismissed

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A lawsuit filed against President Obama by the self-styled "America's Toughest Sheriff" was dismissed today by Judge Beryl A. Howell in the D.C. District Court.

In his complaint, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio claimed that Obama's new immigration policy, announced last month, was unconstitutional. Rather than dismiss Arpaio's case out of hand for lack of standing, Howell delves into the deep questions of justiciability raised by the lawsuit. Then she dismisses it for lack of standing.

A Storied History of Deferred Action

Of course, even if Howell weren't dismissing the case for lack of standing, she probably wouldn't have found Obama's actions unconstitutional. She prefaces the standing discussion by pointing out that "deferred action" on immigration has a storied 20-year history, during which time "Congress has acquiesced to, and even endorsed the use of, deferred action on removal of undocumented immigrants by the executive branch on multiple occasions."

So even if Arpaio weren't bringing "generalized grievances" that aren't subject to adjudication by federal courts, he would have lost anyway.

Arpaio acknowledges, correctly, that "'he and other similarly situated state law enforcement and other officials have no authority' to enforce the immigration laws of the United States." Instead, he tries to cobble together a Jenga tower of standing by claiming -- like many other unsuccessful plaintiffs -- that the "consequences of unlawful immigration in Maricopa County" gives him the ability to bring the suit.

No Standing to Stand On

As a public official, Arpaio's only claim to standing is that his office will possibly have to spend more money, or spend money differently. But even this claim is flimsy: Arpaio's choice to spend money is still his own. The fact that "[a] Federal policy causes his office to expend resources in a manner that he deems suboptimal" doesn't confer standing, Howell explained.

Arpaio tried to make the claim that he's personally injured because "undocumented immigrants have targeted him for assassination as a result of the plaintiff's 'widely known stance on illegal immigration.'" Even if that were true, third parties -- not President Obama -- made these threats (which occurred in the past; there's no evidence of even recent, ongoing threats).

Notably, nothing has happened yet with respect to deferred action. Arpaio claims that it would make Arizona a "magnet" for undocumented immigrants, but that may or may not be the case. Nothing has happened yet, and courts can't grant relief based on speculative harm.

I Thought I Recognized You

So who would bring a lawsuit that was doomed at its inception? Larry Klayman, founder of Freedom Watch and Judicial Watch, and a noted "birther" who has repeatedly filed lawsuits challenging President Obama's citizenship. As a bonus, Klayman believes Obama is secretly a Muslim with an "apparent allegiance to Sharia law."

Of course, Klayman is also the same person who got Judge Richard Leon to rule that the NSA's dragnet surveillance of phone numbers is unconstitutional. Libertarianism sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.

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