The Supreme Court handed a major defeat to the White House on Thursday by blocking an executive order that would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country and work legally.
The court’s decision in United States v. Texas resulted in a 4-4 split, which means a lower court ruling that blocked the executive order will be upheld.
The ruling, which has important implications for business and the upcoming presidential election, is the result of a challenge by 26 states, including Texas, which argued that President’s Obama’s order was an overreach of executive power.
Since the court’s ruling was 4-4, the Supreme Court simply issued a one sentence opinion affirming the lower court, as is its custom, and did not provide reasons for the decision.
The upshot is a setback for the White House, which had argued that the sweeping order was necessary given the ongoing gridlock in Congress over immigration reform.
The President’s order called for a halt to deportations of people in the country who could meet two criteria: They have children who are U.S. citizens or Green Card holders, and they have been in the United States since January, 2010.
The 26 states, backed by Republican leaders, claimed the President did not have authority to issue an order determining how the immigration laws should be enforced in the case of millions of people, saying the issue should be left to Congress. The White House countered that the order was legal and that the states did not have standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place since they could not show they had been harmed. (You can get full background here at SCOTUSblog).
The 4-4 deadlock means ongoing insecurity for the estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants who would have been covered by the order.
The tie also shows how the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, and the refusal of the Senate to approve a successor, continues to affect the Supreme Court’s decision-making process.
While the outcome would have been the same — since the conservative Scalia would almost certainly have sided with the states — the tie means the court could not weigh in, and offer clarity on the country’s immigration laws. The tie also means the issue could return to the court, but not in the foreseeable future.
While the decision is a setback for President Obama and the Democrats, it may also rob Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has railed about keeping migrants out of the country, of a potent political argument.
For U.S. businesses, many of which rely on the cheap labor that undocumented immigrants provide, Thursday’s ruling may contribute to ongoing frustration over the government’s inability to pass immigration laws.