Supreme Court blocks Obama anti-deportation order with 4-4 tie

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington © Reuters
The US Supreme Court split struck a blow against the White House’s immigration agenda with a 4-4 ruling. The split decision affirms the ruling of the lower court, which said the Obama administration overstepped its bounds.

The ruling was announced Thursday morning with only nine words: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court."

The Obama administration in late 2014 began its attempt to bypass Congress with an executive order that would have granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration in late 2014 began its attempt to bypass Congress with an executive order that would have granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. However, lower courts have since blocked its implementation after 25 states joined Texas in a lawsuit against the order that claimed that such an action was not within the president’s power.

The administration continuously appealed as courts ruled against block the order, until it reached the Supreme Court, which has had only eight members since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. A tie vote means that the court can’t issue a ruling, which effectively upholds the lower court’s ruling against the White House.

The administration’s amnesty program is called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA for short. It would shield illegal immigrants from deportation to allow them to seek lawful employment, and also expand an already-existing program that allows young people to stay in the country if they are under 16.

The states that were against the move, which were all led by Republican governors, had legal standing based on the claim that DAPA would force them to provide government services to newly protected illegal immigrants.

Current estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in the country at 11 million. The administration says that deportation of so many people would be unfeasible, but critics of this stance point at that the purpose of enforcement of any law is deterrence even if every single offender can’t be brought to justice.

The White House’s proposal isn’t dead from the tie vote, since the issue will return to a lower court. It is very unlikely that it will go into effect during the remainder of the Obama presidency, however.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that the House of Representatives came out in support of the courts’ rulings because it was an issue of separation of powers.

“It’s a win for Congress and it’s a win for the separation of powers,” he said. “Presidents don’t write laws. Congress writes laws. And today the Supreme Court validated that very core fundamental principle.”

Hillary Clinton said in a tweet that she was saddened by the ruling, echoing others who say that US immigration policy breaks up families. Unlike most countries, children of illegal immigrants born on US soil are granted “birthright citizenship” and have the option to stay. Their parents do not have such an option and can be deported.

President Obama spoke to reporters following the ruling, saying that he disagreed with the outcome.

“I took steps within my existing authority to make our immigration system smarter, fairer and more just," he said. “But today’s decision is frustrating for those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system.”

The president also used the opportunity to chastise the Senate for not considering his nominee for the Supreme Court, using the court's tie vote as an example of why a full  bench is necessary.

"The Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision. This is part of the consequence of the Republican failure so far to give a hearing to Mr. Merrick Garland," the president said.

A protest against the Supreme Court decision broke out in Phoenix, Arizona, where approximately 100 immigrant advocates blocked the main road of Central Avenue. The gathering was declared unlawful and people peacefully moved back to the sidewalks. However, the demonstration did end with some arrests, as two men and two women were seen refusing to leave the street, according to local station KGUN.