The Supreme Court refused Monday to reconsider President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s immigration system following a tie vote in June that blocked its implementation.
The eight-member court’s order shut the door on a plan that already seemed all but dead a few months ago. The court declined to wait until a ninth justice is confirmed and seated in order to rehear the case — and possibly reverse its June decision.
The decision was applauded by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a group of states in seeking to invalidate the plan. “Rewriting national immigration law requires the full and careful consideration of Congress,” he said. “This is the latest setback to the president’s attempt to expand executive power and another victory for those who believe in the Constitution’s separation of powers and the rule of law.”
The high court seldom agrees to rehear cases a second time, but it has on occasion done so when a justice’s death or retirement leaves a vacancy that leads to a 4-4 tie. In those cases, the court merely leaves the decision of the lower court intact and sets no national precedent.
Acting U.S. Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn had told the justices in July that Obama’s effort to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to seek work permits deserved rehearing so that a divided federal appeals court didn’t get the last word on a national policy.
“The validity of the (immigration policy) is unlikely to arise in any future case,” his petition said. “This court instead should be the final arbiter of these matters through a definitive ruling.”
The court previously had turned down rehearing petitions in two other cases that emerged in tie votes earlier this year following the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In those instances, however, new cases can be initiated to test the same statutes or constitutional provisions.
In this case, the policy awaits a new president. Hillary Clinton has said she would revive the plan in another form. Under Donald Trump, it would not resurface.
The tie vote on immigration left intact a preliminary injunction that stopped the program in its tracks in February 2015, after Texas and 25 other states claimed Obama lacked the authority to circumvent Congress. The case is back in federal district court before the judge who issued the original injunction. A reversal there is considered unlikely.
In practical terms, the 4-4 vote doomed for the remainder of Obama’s presidency his goal of providing protection to more than 4 million undocumented parents whose children already have such protection. Even if the Supreme Court had agreed to rehear the case and ultimately ruled in its favor, it would not have happened until 2017 or even 2018, long after Obama had left office.