Journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas outside the Supreme Court in April. Photo: AP

A vote in the Supreme Court on President Barack Obama’s immigration reform plan, which would have protected millions of people from deportation, has ended in a tie. The 4-4 vote leaves the lower court’s ruling in place, effectively blocking Obama’s plan until the end of his administration.

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents plan, or DAPA, would have spared as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The notoriously conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, upheld an injunction against the plan last year.

A coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, had challenged DAPA on the grounds that the program exceeded the president’s statutory authority. From the New York Times:

In their Supreme Court briefs, the states acknowledged that the president had wide authority over immigration matters, telling the justices that “the executive does have enforcement discretion to forbear from removing aliens on an individual basis.” Their quarrel, they said, was with what they called a blanket grant of “lawful presence” to millions of immigrants, entitling them to various benefits.

In response, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the justices that this “lawful presence” was merely what had always followed from the executive branch’s decision not to deport someone for a given period of time.

“Deferred action does not provide these individuals with any lawful status under the immigration laws,” he said. “But it provides some measure of dignity and decent treatment.”

“It recognizes the damage that would be wreaked by tearing apart families,” Mr. Verrilli added, “and it allows individuals to leave the shadow economy and work on the books to provide for their families, thereby reducing exploitation and distortion in our labor markets.”

The circuit court ruled, amongst other things, that Texas would suffer direct and concrete injury from having to spend millions of dollars printing new driver’s licenses for immigrants protected by the plan.