Split US Supreme Court blocks Obama immigration plan

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

SCOTUS blocks WH immigration plan

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt President Barack Obama a harsh defeat by blocking his plan to spare millions of illegal immigrants from deportation in a split 4-4 ruling he called frustrating to those aiming to fix America's broken immigration system.

The ruling, coming seven months before Obama's term in office ends, marked the latest success that his Republican adversaries have had in thwarting a major policy initiative of the Democratic president. It also guarantees that immigration will remain a prominent part of the campaign ahead of the Nov. 8 election in which voters will pick his successor.

"For more than two decades now, our immigration system ... has been broken, and the fact that the Supreme Court was not able to issue a decision today doesn't just set the system back even further, it takes us further from the country that we aspire to be," Obama said at the White House.

The 4-4 decision left in place a 2015 lower-court ruling blocking his executive action on immigration, which was never implemented.

SEE ALSO: Democrats chant one word to Paul Ryan

Obama unveiled his plan in November 2014 and it was quickly challenged in court by Republican-governed Texas and 25 other states that argued that Obama exceeded his presidential powers by taking the executive action and bypassing Congress.

Obama called the ruling frustrating to those who want to "bring a rationality" to the immigration system and to allow the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to "come out of the shadows."

Obama's 2014 plan was tailored to let roughly 4 million people - those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents - get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits.

The issue of illegal immigration has featured prominently in the presidential campaign. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has called for deportation of all immigrants in the United States illegally - most of them from Mexico and other Latin American countries - and building a wall along the Mexican border.

"In the end, it is my firm belief that immigration is not something to fear," Obama said. "We don't have to wall ourselves off from those who may not look like us right now, or pray like we do, or have a different last name, because being an American is something more than that. What makes us American is our shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal."

The court, with four conservative justices and four liberals, appeared divided along ideological lines during oral arguments on April 18.

The 4-4 ruling constituted one sentence saying the court was equally divided with no written opinions. The split was possible because there are only eight justices following February's death of conservative Antonin Scalia.

The Obama administration could ask the high court to rehear the case, as losing parties in two other cases in which the court has split 4-4 have done. The court has not yet acted on those other petitions.

The states argued that Obama overstepped the powers granted to him by the U.S. Constitution by infringing upon the authority of Congress.

RELATED: Behind the scenes with Supreme Court justices

32 PHOTOS
Behind the scenes with Supreme Court Justices
See Gallery
Behind the scenes with Supreme Court Justices
A circular staircase is seen in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A marble staircase leads down to an elevator at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A notice is seen on a lectern, which faces the bench and where lawyers stand to argue, in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stands in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
Elevator operator Johnnie Bacon, from Washington, smiles at a passenger as he tends one of the elevators in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
People hold umbrellas on a rainy day at the plaza by the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Daniel Agbleze waters flowers in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Visitors look on as attorney John Duggan (R) takes photos with his family, after arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Historical and mythical figures of the law are seen in a frieze in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A clock hangs above the bench in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Name plates mark the spaces reserved for justices' families in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pencils, a reminder of how to address the court and a seating chart of the justices are seen at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Carved oak walls and arches are seen in the reading area of the library at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer looks for a favourite volume of Proust in his rare book collection in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts eats a bowl of soup as he sits down to lunch with his team of clerks in his private study at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan walks with her clerks in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A guard stands on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
An anti-abortion protester demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Television journalists prepare for a news conference on the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben departs the U.S. Justice Department in traditional morning coat on his way to argue his one-hundredth case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor sit on stage as they talk about the role of food in the life of the U.S. Supreme Court at the National Museum of American History in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Reporters wait for the release of the text of the justices' opinions, timed to match the readings of the decisions from the bench, at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Dappled light falls across books shelved in the library at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

'MAJOR SETBACK'

"Today's decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law. This is a major setback to President Obama's attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law," said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican.

Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said the ruling "makes the president's executive action on immigration null and void." Ryan described the decision as a "major victory in our fight to restore the separation of powers."

The Constitution assigns certain powers to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

The court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the main legal question. Therefore, its action set no legal precedent to bind future presidents. The decision indicates that any major immigration policy change that would address the long-term situation of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally would have to be enacted by Congress.

This was not the first time that the Supreme Court determined the fate of an important Obama initiative. The justices in 2012 and 2015 issued high-profile rulings preserving his signature healthcare law that Republicans have long fought.

The case was viewed as an important test of the limits of presidential powers and came near the end of the Obama presidency that has been defined by unceasing fights with Republicans in Congress and in state capitals who have fought countless initiatives of the president.

After the states filed suit and shortly before Obama's plan was to go into effect last year, a federal judge in Texas blocked it in February 2015. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in November.

Republicans have been critical of Obama's use of executive action to get around Congress on immigration policy and other issues such as gun control and healthcare.

Obama took the action after House Republicans killed bipartisan immigration legislation, billed as the biggest overhaul of U.S. laws on the matter in decades and providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, that was passed by the Senate in 2013.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton criticized the ruling for "throwing millions of families across our country into a state of uncertainty" and said it offered "a stark reminder of the harm Donald Trump would do to our families, our communities and our country" on immigration policy.

The ruling is likely to further amplify the role the immigration debate will take in the general election battle between Clinton and Trump.

Beyond that, the ruling is likely to encourage other Republicans on the campaign trail to criticize Obama for executive overreach: they now have a tangible piece of evidence to cite. And should Clinton win in November, the ruling could entice Republican lawmakers unhappy with her executive orders to challenge them through the courts.

"I believe that this country deserves an immigration policy that reflects the goodness of the American people and I think we're going to get that. Hopefully we're going to get that in November," Obama said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

RELATED:

Read Full Story

People are Reading