High court’s immigration ruling underscores Congress’ failures

President Barack Obama departs after speaking in the White House briefing room about Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on immigration.
President Barack Obama departs after speaking in the White House briefing room about Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on immigration. The Associated Press

In a nine-word order, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday underscored Congress’ multiple failures.

As the Senate departed Washington for yet another break, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained steadfast in his refusal to convene confirmation hearings on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.

The short-handed court deadlocked 4-4 and failed to resolve important questions of executive powers. The decision – or lack of one – left in place lower court rulings that eviscerated Obama’s immigration plan.

The case dates to 2014, when Obama, frustrated with the failure of Congress to fix our broken immigration laws, invoked what he saw as his executive authority by implementing Deferred Action for Parents of Americans.

With that order, the president made clear he would not deport as many as 5 million immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally but whose children were born in the United States.

Texas led 26 states with Republican governors in a lawsuit accusing the president of abusing his authority by circumventing Congress and adopting a plan that effectively would force states to grant legal status to unauthorized immigrants.

A single federal judge in Brownsville, Texas, issued a nationwide order blocking Obama’s plan from taking effect. On a 2-1 vote, the federal Court of Appeals in Texas expanded that ruling. On Thursday, the high court punted: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

The lack of a clear decision in U.S. v. Texas means that next president will inherit the nation’s immigration morass. The choice for voters will be stark. Donald Trump has called for deportation of people here illegally and construction of a wall on the Mexican border. Hillary Clinton would more closely adhere to Obama’s immigration policies.

Individuals previously protected by Obama’s order won’t necessarily be deported so long as he is president. Obama said people who are working and following the law will remain a low priority for deportation.

However, the decision has direct consequences in California. Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers had approved budget language in 2015 allowing roughly 400,000 unauthorized immigrants covered by Obama’s order to receive Medi-Cal health care coverage, though because the president’s order was stayed, they never received full coverage.

“The ruling keeps them without status and ineligible for coverage,” Brown’s press secretary, Evan Westrup, said in an email Thursday.

Whether or not one supports Obama, no one should want to grant a president broad power over an issue such as immigration. That’s a recipe for abuse. However, Obama acted when Republican leaders in the House and Senate failed to compromise on immigration.

As the Western Growers Association, which represents farming interests, said in its response to the ruling, Obama and Congress should “reflect on their responsibilities to the American public.”

“Congress should bring forth a comprehensive immigration reform plan that considers agriculture’s unique needs,” the statement said.

That won’t happen, not with this Congress. Nor will the Senate act to confirm Judge Garland any time soon. Those weighty decisions will be left up to the electorate, as if voters need another reason to care about the outcome of the November election.