The Supreme Court announced Thursday that it had split 4-4 on President Barack Obama’s signature immigration programs, thereby upholding a lower court’s ruling blocking implementation of the president’s executive actions.

Key points: 

  • The Supreme Court split means a S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruling in the case will be upheld, blocking Obama’s programs to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and apply for work authorization.
  • While the ruling is a significant blow to the Obama administration and supporters of his immigration programs, it will not impact the administration’s immigration policies related to high-skilled workers at this time.

Background: Obama announced plans in November 2014 to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and create a similar program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). Eligible applicants would have been allowed to remain in the U.S. and receive work authorization.

The initiatives were put on hold after a federal court sided with 26 states, led by Texas, that sued to block their implementation. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the ruling in November and the Justice Department appealed shortly thereafter. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April, today, upheld the 5th Circuit decision in a one-sentence per curiam order, stating, “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.” The Court did not weigh in on the substantive legal issues in the case, which will now be decided by the district court.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement that the ruling was 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.” Obama told reporters the ruling was “frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system” and “heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who’ve made their lives” in the United States.

BAL Analysis: The ruling was a significant defeat for the administration, as it will continue to prevent these programs from going forward. However, the decision indicates little about how the Supreme Court might rule in future immigration or executive authority cases because of the 4-4 split, the result of a vacancy on the Court. The ruling also does not impact any of Obama’s immigration policies related to high-skilled workers or the DACA program as it existed before Obama’s 2014 executive actions were announced. The merits of the lawsuit will now be decided by the district court in Brownsville, Texas, where the suit was filed.

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