The Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to President Obama's immigration policies on Thursday, deadlocking in a 4-4 decision over two controversial programs the White House wants to implement.
The tied vote leaves in place a lower court ruling that blocks a program allowing undocumented immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to remain in the United States for three years and apply for work permits.
It also prevents the administration from otherwise expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program issued by Obama in 2012.
This is the most prominent Supreme Court case to stall in a 4-4 tie, and it raises the stakes further in this fall's presidential election.
After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, Obama nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland to the court.
But Senate Republicans, even before that nomination, said they would not hold a vote or a hearing for anyone nominated by Obama, arguing the pivotal vote on the high court should be determined by the next president.
The White House and Democrats in Congress have howled in rage over that move, and Thursday's decision will increase tensions over the Senate blockade.
Obama in an appearance from the White House press briefing room decried what he called the "lack" of a decision by the eight-justice court.
“The fact the Supreme Court wasn’t able to issue a decision today doesn’t just set the system back even further, it takes us further back from the country we want to be," he said.
Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Ill.) blasted the GOP Senate majority for failing to consider Garland in comments on the Supreme Court's steps.
"This 4-4 decision is clear evidence we need nine justices on the court," Durbin said.
"Today’s deadlocked decision from the Supreme Court is unacceptable, and shows us all just how high the stakes are in this election,” she said in a statement.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE has pledged to place tough new restrictions on illegal immigration, including the construction of a massive wall along the U.S.'s southern border that he says Mexico will pay for.
Republicans hailed the high court’s vote.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling makes the president’s executive action on immigration null and void,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “The Constitution is clear: The president is not permitted to write laws — only Congress is. This is another major victory in our fight to restore the separation of powers.”
Thursday's action does not affect the original DACA decision by Obama that allows certain children who entered or stayed in the United States illegally to remain in the country and apply for work permits.
Twenty-six Republican-led states sued the federal government over the expansion of that program, as well as the new program for parents, after the president issued fresh executive actions in November 2014.
The states claimed they would be burdened by having to spend more on public services like healthcare, law enforcement and education if undocumented parents of both American citizens and legal permanent residents were allowed to stay in the country.
Texas, specifically, said it would be hurt by having to issue more driver's licenses, a benefit that’s now subsidized.
Supporters of the administration argued that Texas could pass the added costs for driver’s licenses on to residents. They claim the challenging states actually stand to make money off Obama’s programs from an increase in tax contributions.
A three-judge panel from a federal appeals court in New Orleans said in a split decision the Obama administration lacked the legal power to shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits.
It handed a nationwide injunction preventing the administration from putting the programs into place.
By failing to provide a new ruling on that decision, the Supreme Court's action on Thursday leaves it in place.
The actual lawsuit suit filed by the 26 states is still working its way through the court system.
When Obama took the action to expand his immigration programs, it was part of a last-ditch effort to take action after Congress failed to pass a sweeping overhaul of nation’s immigration system that would have offered a path to citizenship for millions of people living in the country illegally.
Immigrant rights activists derided Obama as the “deporter in chief” for ramping up the pace of deportations during his first term. Since then, he’s taken steps to narrow the focus of immigration enforcement, and his executive actions were seen as a centerpiece of his push to reverse that trend.
Rafael Bernal contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:14 p.m.