The U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 Thursday over a challenge to President Obama’s immigration policy, a result that prevents the administration from putting the program into effect during the rest of him term.
Announced in late 2014, it would shield more than four million people from deportation. But lower courts blocked its implementation after Texas and 25 other states sued, claiming the president had no power to order the changes.
The death of Antonin Scalia left the Supreme Court evenly divided on the issue. Thursday’s tie vote means the justices were unable to announce a ruling, an outcome that leaves in place the lower court rulings against enforcing the plan.
Under the proposal, adults here illegally could remain if they meet certain residency requirements and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. It would also expand another program, now in effect, that allows young people to stay in the country if they were brought here under age 16.
With 11 million undocumented migrants living in the U.S., the administration argued that it’s impossible to deport everyone here illegally. The policy was based on setting priorities — concentrating on criminals and terrorists and deferring removal for others who have established ties to the U.S.
It would not offer permanent legal status but would defer for three years any effort to seek deportation for those qualified.
The states argued that Congress has never given presidents a blank check for granting lawful status to people here illegally. They said the policy would do far more than simply abandon removal proceedings, by converting illegal presence into lawful status and granting permission to seek work permits.
Sixteen other states urged the justices to let the policy take effect.
Thursday’s tie vote does not strike down the Obama proposal. In bringing the case to the Supreme court, the government sought authority to begin enforcing the policy while the lawsuit brought by the states works its way through the lower courts.
That process will play out for at least another year, and the next president would decide whether to continue defending it in court. Hillary Clinton has vowed to expand the program, but Donald Trump has said he would abandon it.