WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court handed President Barack Obama's a significant legal defeat on Thursday, refusing to revive his stalled plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and give them the right to work legally in this country.
The court's liberals and conservatives deadlocked, which leaves in place a lower court's decision that the president exceeded his powers in issuing the directive.
The action sends Obama perhaps his biggest legal loss of his presidency and leaves in limbo about 4 million undocumented immigrants whom the initiative was intended to help: those who have been in the country since 2010, have committed no serious crimes, and have family ties to U.S. citizens or others lawfully in the country.
Obama's 2014 executive action came after Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The administration says the program is a way for a government with limited resources to prioritize which illegal immigrants it will deport.
As a practical matter, the government has never deported more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants per year and often sends home far fewer than that. But Texas, along with 25 other GOP-led states, challenged the action.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said the program was "much more than nonenforcement" and that the change in designation for the immigrants would trigger eligibility for federal and state benefits that would not otherwise be available.
The deadlock on the president's deportation plan was the most serious consequence of the Supreme Court's short-handed status. The delay in announcing the tie - the case was argued months ago - indicates the court tried to find a compromise that could draw five votes. The court has had only eight members since Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February, and Senate Republicans have said they will not act of Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland before the November election.
Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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