Earlier this year, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services proposed to change the eligibility guidelines for the General Assistance program to exclude many non-citizens (including asylum seekers who came to this country fleeing religious and political persecution). Had the rule gone into effect, hundreds of Mainers would have lost their apartments, access to food vouchers, and other basic human necessities that everyone deserves. For more than 150 years, the Constitution has protected non-citizens from discrimination; laws that discriminate on the basis of alienage are said to be "inherently suspect" and they are subject to the very highest level of judicial review. America is a nation of immigrants, and the promise of equal protection under the law has long embraced a guarantee that everyone subject to the law is entitled to the protection of the law, regardless of citizenship status.
Hundreds of Mainers turned out for a public hearing to oppose the rule (nobody spoke in support) and hundreds more submitted written comments to the department. Despite the outpouring of public opposition, the department pressed ahead. But, the rule could not go into effect without the approval of the Attorney General, and last week Attorney General Mills told the department that the rule was an unfunded municipal mandate, that the eligibility standards proposed were not authorized by statute, and that the rule violates the constitution.
This was a tremendous victory for all the people of Maine because it is a reminder that the constitution protects everyone. We and our colleagues at Maine Equal Justice Partners were fully prepared to file suit to block this rule if it had gone into effect, but we are overjoyed that we don't have to. The Attorney General deserves our gratitude for standing up for the rights of all Mainers.