U.S. top court denies Obama request to rehear major immigration case

October 3, 2016 9:44 AM EDT

The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, DC, U.S. on March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

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By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to rehear a bid to revive President Barack Obama's plan to spare from deportation millions of immigrants in the country illegally, a case in which the justices split 4-4 in June.

In a brief order, the court rejected the Obama administration's long-shot request, meaning the justices' June 23 decision is final. That ruling left in place lower court decisions blocking the plan, which Obama announced in 2014 but never went into effect.

The high court remains one justice short following Antonin Scalia's February death.

The Democratic president's plan was challenged in court by Republican-governed Texas and 25 other states that argued he overstepped the powers granted to him by the U.S. Constitution by infringing upon congressional authority. Obama acted unilaterally by executive action, bypassing the Republican-led Congress.

"This is the latest setback to the president's attempt to expand executive power and another victory for those who believe in the Constitution's separation of powers and the rule of law," Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said of the Supreme Court's action on Monday.

Obama's plan was designed to let roughly 4 million people - those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents - get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits.

The administration in July asked the court to take a second look at the case once it had a full complement of nine justices.

"The inability of the Supreme Court in this situation to reach a decision and put forward a ruling has a negative impact on millions of people in the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, calling on Senate Republicans to confirm a ninth justice.

The administration's immigration enforcement efforts, focusing on criminals, recent border-crossers and on people who pose a national security threat, will move forward, unaffected by the Supreme Court's action, Earnest said.

The Republican-led Senate, in a move with little precedent in U.S. history, has refused to consider Obama's nominee to replace Scalia, federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, saying Obama's successor should make the appointment.

"By continuing their historic, unprecedented obstruction of Chief Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, Republicans are spreading gridlock and denying justice to the American people," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said.

An estimated 11 million immigrants live in the United States illegally.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham)

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