Sixth Circuit Warns District Courts to Lay Off Nationwide Injunctions
March 14, 2023
Nationwide injunctions are court orders that apply to the entire country, rather than just the parties involved in a particular case. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of district courts issuing nationwide injunctions to block government policies or actions.
However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has recently warned district courts to be more cautious when issuing nationwide injunctions. In a decision issued in February 2022, the court held that district courts should only issue nationwide injunctions in “exceptional circumstances” and after careful consideration of the potential harms and benefits.
The court explained that nationwide injunctions can have far-reaching and sometimes unintended consequences, such as disrupting the balance of powers between the branches of government, interfering with ongoing litigation in other jurisdictions, and causing confusion and inconsistency in the law.
Therefore, the court urged district courts to limit the scope of their injunctions to the parties and geographic areas directly affected by the case, unless there are compelling reasons to issue a broader order.
This decision aligns with similar rulings by other federal courts, including the Supreme Court, which has expressed skepticism about nationwide injunctions and emphasized the importance of respecting the institutional limits of the judiciary.
In summary, while nationwide injunctions can be a powerful tool for protecting constitutional rights and challenging government overreach, courts must be mindful of their potential consequences and use them sparingly and judiciously.
Immigration Guideline Leads to Nationwide Injunction
In recent years, there have been several instances where federal courts have issued nationwide injunctions in the context of immigration policy.
For example, in 2018, a federal court in California issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects from deportation certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Similarly, in 2019, a federal court in Oregon issued a nationwide injunction blocking a new Trump administration policy that would have made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they had used certain public benefits, such as food stamps or Medicaid.
Most recently, in October 2021, a federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Biden administration’s new guidelines for immigration enforcement. The guidelines, which were issued by the Department of Homeland Security, prioritized certain categories of immigrants for deportation, such as those who posed a threat to national security or public safety, while deprioritizing others, such as those who were in the country unlawfully but had not committed any crimes.
The judge’s injunction prevented the Biden administration from implementing the new guidelines, citing concerns that they exceeded the administration’s authority and violated federal law. The injunction had the effect of temporarily halting the guidelines nationwide, while the case proceeded through the courts.
While nationwide injunctions can be a controversial and contentious issue, they are a legal tool available to federal courts to provide relief in cases where a policy or action has a widespread impact. However, as noted in the previous answer, courts have been increasingly cautious about issuing such injunctions, recognizing the potential for unintended consequences and disruption of the judicial process nationwide injunctions.
Three States Argued Guidance Hurts Their Economies
In recent years, there have been several instances where states have challenged federal policies and guidance that they believe will harm their economies or infringe on their sovereignty through nationwide injunctions.
For example, in 2020, three states (New York, Connecticut, and Vermont) challenged a new rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security that would have made it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they had used certain public benefits, such as food stamps or Medicaid. The states argued that the rule would have a chilling effect on their economies by discouraging immigrants from seeking the benefits they need to support themselves and their families nationwide injunctions.
Similarly, in 2021, several states challenged the Biden administration’s decision to pause new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, arguing that the decision would harm their economies and violate federal law. The states filed lawsuits in federal court, seeking to overturn the administration’s policy and resume leasing activity.
In both cases, the states argued that the federal government’s actions would hurt their economies and undermine their ability to govern effectively. They also invoked principles of federalism and state sovereignty, arguing that the federal government was encroaching on their authority to regulate their affairs through nationwide injunctions.
While states have the right to challenge federal policies and guidance that they believe are unconstitutional or harmful, the courts will ultimately decide whether those challenges have merit. In many cases, the outcome will depend on a careful balancing of federal and state interests, and a consideration of the practical implications of the policy or guidance in question nationwide injunctions.
Sixth Circuit Sides With Federal Government
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued decisions in numerous cases involving disputes between the federal government and states or individuals. It is not uncommon for the court to side with the federal government in such cases, particularly when the federal government is acting within its constitutional authority or under federal law nationwide injunctions.
For example, in 2020, the Sixth Circuit upheld a federal district court decision that struck down a Tennessee law that required people to satisfy certain residency requirements before being able to obtain a license to sell alcohol. The court held that the law violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states through nationwide injunctions.
In another case, the Sixth Circuit upheld a federal law that prohibits people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from possessing firearms. The plaintiff in the case argued that the law violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms, but the court rejected that argument and upheld the law as constitutional nationwide injunctions.
However, the Sixth Circuit has also been known to rule against the federal government in cases where it has exceeded its authority or violated individual rights. For example, in 2019, the court struck down a Michigan law that required certain public employees to pay union dues, ruling that the law violated the First Amendment rights of the employee’s nationwide injunctions.
Overall, the Sixth Circuit’s decisions in cases involving the federal government reflect its commitment to upholding the Constitution and federal law, while also ensuring that individual rights and state sovereignty are protected by nationwide injunctions.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s Concurrence
Judge Jeffrey Sutton is a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is known for his thoughtful and scholarly opinions. It is not clear which case you are referring to, but Judge Sutton has written several notable concurrences in recent years nationwide injunctions.
In general, Judge Sutton’s concurrences tend to be thoughtful and nuanced, and often focus on the broader legal and policy implications of the case at hand. He is known for his commitment to judicial restraint and his emphasis on the importance of respecting the separation of powers between the three branches of government.
For example, in a 2019 case involving a challenge to a Michigan law that required certain public employees to pay union dues, Judge Sutton wrote a concurring opinion that emphasized the importance of respecting the democratic process and the role of state legislatures in enacting laws. He argued that the court should be careful not to usurp the role of the legislature and should defer to the political process in cases where there is a reasonable basis for the law in question.
Similarly, in a 2018 case involving a challenge to Ohio’s system for purging voters from its rolls, Judge Sutton wrote a concurring opinion that emphasized the importance of maintaining the integrity of the electoral process while also protecting individual rights. He argued that the court should be careful not to interfere with the state’s efforts to ensure the accuracy of its voter rolls, but should also be vigilant in protecting the right to vote for all citizens.
Overall, Judge Sutton’s concurrences reflect his commitment to balancing competing interests and respecting the separation of powers, while also ensuring that individual rights and democratic principles are protected.