The Supreme Court deadlocked on Thursday over a challenge to President Barack Obama's immigration plan that would have prevented deportation for millions of immigrants, NBC News reported .
The 4-4 tie leaves in place lower appeals court rulings against enforcing the plan. The February death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has left the court with just 8 justices.
In a one-sentence statement which allowed the lower court rulings to stand, the court said: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court."
President Barack Obama panned the divided Supreme Court’s inability to definitively rule on his immigration action, arguing it was a direct result of Senate Republicans’ refusal to take up his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the high court.
Obama's executive action would have allowed unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to stay in the country legally if they met certain residency requirements. The program was called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.
Another part of the plan would have expanded an earlier program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, which protected undocumented immigrants from deportation if they first came to the U.S. under the age of 16.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan praised the ruling, saying in a statement, "The Constitution is clear: The president is not permitted to write laws – only Congress is.”
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called the ruling "unacceptable."
"These are our friends and family members; neighbors and classmates; DREAMers and parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents," she said in a statement. "We should be doing everything possible under the law to provide them relief from the specter of deportation."
Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the deadlocked decision was "brought to you by Republican obstruction." He blamed the House GOP for not allowing a vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill three years ago, and also hit Senate Republicans for not allowing a confirmation hearing for Garland.
"If Senate Republicans were not engaged in unprecedented obstruction against Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, he would be serving on our highest court today and the court would be at full strength and capable of resolving important cases," Leahy said in a statement.
Obama also said the court ruling will not alter the immigration enforcement priorities he has ordered. This means that undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for some time and have no run afoul of other laws remain lowest on law enforcement officials' lists of people to target.
The president acknowledged that his expanded programs are likely to remain frozen until a new president — and Congress — take office next year, but he proclaimed himself "optimistic" that a sweeping immigration overhaul will eventually pass the legislative branch.
John T. Bennett contributed to this report.