House votes to submit brief in Supreme Court immigration case
© Greg Nash

The House passed legislation on Thursday authorizing the Speaker to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case regarding the legality of President Obama’s executive actions to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.

Passage fell along party lines by a 234-186 vote.

Five Republicans who hold more centrist views on immigration broke with their party to oppose the resolution: Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Mario Díaz-Balart (Fla.), Bob Dold (Ill.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.). 

The unprecedented move will insert the House into one of the most hotly contested Supreme Court cases in the middle of the presidential campaign.

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Amicus briefs stating a legal opinion are usually decided by the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group. But the brief authorized by the resolution passed on Thursday will offer an argument on behalf of the entire House.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanObamaCare gets new lease on life Ellison to Dems: Don't gloat, get ready for round 2 Trump blames Democrats for ObamaCare defeat MORE (R-Wis.) said it was critical for the House to submit an opinion as an entire body in order to bolster the argument that only Congress should have the authority to overhaul existing laws.

“I am asking the whole House to go on record as an institution,” Ryan said on the floor. 

“If we’re going to maintain the principle of self-government, if we’re going to maintain this critical founding principle of government by consent of the governed, then the legislative branch needs to be writing our laws — not the executive branch, and certainly not a branch of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats,” the Speaker said.

The House’s outside counsel is expected to ask for time during the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on April 18, according to Ryan’s office.

A ruling is expected by the end of June. But the vacancy as a result of Antonin Scalia's death means the Supreme Court might not be able to break a tie.

If the Supreme Court issues a 4-4 ruling on the case, United States v. Texas, the lower court's decision may stand or it may be tried again in the next Supreme Court term.

Twenty-six states, led by Texas, challenged the Obama administration after the president issued the executive actions in the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections.

House Democrats who support Obama’s executive actions bemoaned that the amicus brief wouldn’t speak for them. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that the resolution doesn’t lay out precisely what the final amicus brief text will say apart from stating it will oppose the executive actions.

"They won't tell the House or the American people what they're planning to say in it," Pelosi said. "That raises serious questions. Will the Republicans yet again call for tearing apart families? Will they call for deporting DREAMers?"

Democrats repeatedly tried to link the amicus brief to GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Mulvaney: Let states figure out 'essential health benefits' How President Trump can restore sanity to America's labor laws MORE's inflammatory remarks about immigrants on the campaign trail.

"There are times in our nation’s history when our politics become a race to the bottom," said Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas). "Make no mistake that we are in one of those eras now. And this resolution represents just the beginning."

House and Senate Democrats filed their own amicus brief last week in support of the executive actions, which have been frozen for more than a year after a federal judge put them on hold.