The Cable

Supreme Court Deadlock Delivers Obama a Massive Defeat on Immigration

A tie at the Supreme Court blocks Obama's plan to shield millions from deportation.


In a crushing blow to President Barack Obama’s domestic legacy, the Supreme Court effectively blocked the president’s plan to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The ruling potentially eliminates the hope that the president would be able to substantively change the nation’s immigration laws before he leaves the Oval Office.

The justices tied 4-4, a glaring reminder that the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to consider Merrick Garland, Obama’s choice to replace deceased conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. It also is likely to add to the already ferocious debate about illegal immigration that is taking place on the 2016 campaign trail, where presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump rocketed to early prominence by promising to deport the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

The decision leaves in place an appeals court ruling blocking Obama’s executive action, called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program. The president took the action in 2014 after Republicans refused to update immigration laws to address those living and working in the United States illegally.

Under Obama’s executive action, people living in the United States for more than five years with children who are U.S. citizens were granted temporary deportation relief and the right to apply for three-year work permits. It was challenged by Texas and 25 other states, many of whose top officials celebrated the ruling as a needed bulwark against what they see as Obama’s over-reliance on executive actions.

“Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: One person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “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.”

In a press conference shortly after the decision was announced, Obama called the ruling “heartbreaking” and said it “takes us further from the country that we aspire to be.”

Proponents of the plan quickly painted Thursday’s ruling as a setback and insisted the matter was not settled. “I am confident that this case will come before the Supreme Court again,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), said in a statement.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus vowed to continue to fight for immigration reform, both on Twitter and during a press conference outside of the Supreme Court after the verdict was announced. They also said they would get revenge against opponents of immigration reform this November, when Americans take to the polls to vote for the next president, as well as for Congress.

“Remember, there are 45 million more coming behind them that are citizens of the United States whose wrath you are going to have to deal with come November,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), said in the press conference after the vote.

The decision heightens the importance of immigration reform on the campaign trail, as the matter will now likely be left to the next president. Trump has vowed to build a fence along the United States-Mexico border and characterized Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, as well as planning mass deportations. He took to Twitter Thursday to praise the decision. 

His Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, used the occasion to blast her opponents. She’s called for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is purely procedural and casts no doubt on the fact that [Obama’s immigration orders] are entirely within the president’s legal authority,” she said in a statement. “This decision is also a stark reminder of the harm Donald Trump would do to our families, our communities, and our country.”

Photo credit: MARK WILSON/Getty Images

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