The Obama administration on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the legality of the president's controversial immigration enforcement plan, which stalled last month when the high court deadlocked on an appeal.
The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced in November 2014 and would have shielded about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. It was scheduled to go into effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville.
Hanen ruled that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has. His decision was upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, but without a full complement of judges after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the high court deadlocked 4-4, effectively upholding the 5th Circuit's ruling. In Monday's filing, the administration asked the court to hear the case again when it has nine justices.
“This filing is consistent with historical practice and reflects the need for prompt and definitive resolution of this important case,” Department of Justice Spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement.
The filing for rehearing by the Department of Justice concedes the Supreme Court rarely rehears ordinary cases. But it argues it’s not unheard of when the court is missing a justice.
“Ordinarily, it is exceedingly rare for this Court to grant rehearing,” the petition states. “But when this Court has conducted plenary review and then affirmed by vote of an equally divided court because of a vacancy rather than a disqualification, the Court has not infrequently granted rehearing before a full Bench.”
Immigrant rights groups were quick to praise the Obama administration’s decision.
“This case reflects what happens when politicians and members of the judiciary play politics with people's lives,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based outfit that lobbies for comprehensive immigration reform and supports the DAPA program. “And because Republicans in the Senate refuse to do their job and appoint a successor to Justice Scalia until the elections are over, they have left the court without a tie-breaking vote at a time when major national cases are on their docket.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office successfully defended the lawsuit after it was filed by Gov. Greg Abbott when he was attorney general. "Because we are right on the law we have prevailed at every stage in this case, and we are confident that we will continue to prevail,” said Marc Rylander, a Paxton spokesman.