Today, June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4 to 4 split in the long-awaited case, United States v. Texas, effectively upholding the lower court’s injunction halting the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the creation of a new program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The original DACA program remains in place.
The decision was just nine words long: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”
The case, United States v. Texas, No. 15-674, concerned a 2014 executive action by the president to allow as many as five million unauthorized immigrants who were the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program that would spare them from deportation and provide them with work permits. The program was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
The court did not disclose how the justices had voted, but they were almost certainly split along ideological lines. Administration officials had hoped that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would join the court’s four-member liberal wing to save the program.
The case hinged in part on whether Texas had suffered the sort of direct and concrete injury that gave it standing to sue. Texas said it had standing because it would be costly for the state to give driver’s licenses to immigrants affected by the federal policy.
Chief Justice Roberts is often skeptical of expansive standing arguments. But it seemed plain when the case was argued in April that he was satisfied that Texas had standing, paving the way for a deadlock.
White House officials had repeatedly argued that presidents in both parties had used similar executive authority in applying the nation’s immigration laws. And they said Congress had granted federal law enforcement wide discretion over how those laws should be carried out.
But the court’s ruling may mean that the next president will again need to seek a congressional compromise to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. And it left immigration activists deeply disappointed.
In their Supreme Court briefs, the states acknowledged that the president had wide authority over immigration matters, telling the justices that “the executive does have enforcement discretion to forbear from removing aliens on an individual basis.” Their quarrel, they said, was with what they called a blanket grant of “lawful presence” to millions of immigrants, entitling them to various benefits.
In response, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the justices that this “lawful presence” was merely what had always followed from the executive branch’s decision not to deport someone for a given period of time.
Speaking at the White House, President Obama described the ruling as a deep disappointment for immigrants who would not be able to emerge from the threat of deportation for at least the balance of his term.
“Today’s decision is frustrating to those who seek to grow our economy and bring a rationality to our immigration system,” he said. “It is heartbreaking for the millions of immigrants who have made their lives here.”