Supreme Court justices have deadlocked on whether protections for undocumented immigrants can be expanded under an executive order by the President.

In a June 23 decision, justices were equally divided on the constitutionality of two of President Obama’s immigration policies: the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and an expanded version of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The former protects undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens from deportation, if they meet certain criteria. The second extends work authorization under the original DACA program from 2 years to 3 years and broadens age requirements.

The 4-to-4 split decision in Texas v. United States mean the policies remain blocked by the lower court, and the expanded programs will not go forward anytime soon. The decision does not affect original DACA, which protects from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and offers access to work authorization.

President Obama expressed disappointment at the lack of agreement, saying the tie vote underscores the need for nine justices on the court.

“As disappointing as it was to be challenged for taking the kind of action that other administrations have taken, the country was looking to the Supreme Court to resolve the important legal questions raised in this case,” President Obama said during a June 23 press conference. “Today, the Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision … it means the expanded set of common sense deferred action policies that I announced 2 years ago cannot go forward at this stage until there is a ninth justice on the court to break the tie.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was satisfied with the decision, calling it a victory for the state plaintiffs.

“Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law,” Mr. 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.”

Texas was 1 of 26 states that sued over DAPA and expanded DACA. The states argued the president does not have the authority to issue the new immigration policies, and that the programs violate the Constitution as well as the Administrative Procedure Act for notice-and-comment rule making. Justices heard oral arguments April 18.

Immigration advocates were worried that if expanded DACA were struck down, a similar fate would follow for the original DACA policy. As it stands, undocumented immigrants who benefit from deportation protection and work authorization under original DACA, including undocumented medical students, will not be affected by the Supreme Court decision.

Marielena Hincapié , executive director for the National Immigration Law Center, vowed to continue fighting for the policies to take effect.

“Immigrants and allies fought for and won these significant policy victories, which would have brought much-needed emotional and economic stability to millions of our community members, and we will not sit back,” she said in a statement . “We urge the Department of Justice to seek a rehearing for when a ninth justice is confirmed for the Supreme Court.”

Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein said the split decision upholds the rule of law and helps preserve the balance of power in the United States.

“By ruling in favor of the federal court’s injunction, half of the nation’s Supreme Court Justices have shown that they have deep concerns about this president’s attempt at a power grab by his efforts to amend federal laws from the Oval Office,” Mr. Stein said in a statement .

Texas v. United States will be sent back to U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas who will hear the case on its merits. The case could wind its way back to the U.S. Supreme Court for a rehearing after a ninth justice is confirmed.

On Twitter @legal_med


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