The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider a legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, setting up an election-year review of his plan to allow up to 5 million immigrants living in the United States illegally to work in the nation legally.
The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, known as DAPA, would allow people who have been in the U.S. for more than five years, and are parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents, to be spared deportation and apply for work permits.
The president has blamed Republicans in Congress for repeatedly refusing to support bipartisan legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. In November 2014, Obama said in an Oval Office address to millions of illegal immigrants: “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the president’s executive action was “clearly within the confines of his authority as president of the United States.”
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in the legal arguments that we’ll be making before the court,” Earnest said. He added that the Obama administration has not only a legal case but also a policy argument about “the practical impact, the positive impact” of the executive actions on “the security of communities across the country.”
If the justices side with the Obama administration, the White House has said that it will move quickly to set up the program and begin enrolling immigrants in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, before his successor takes office. The case is expected to be argued in April and decided by June, just before the presidential-nominating conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Reaction to the court’s decision to hear the case was swift from both sides. Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) posted on Twitter, saying that he is confident the Supreme Court will agree that the president’s executive orders are unconstitutional.
“Regardless,” he continued, “as president I will end them.”
Republican front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly bashed Obama over his executive actions, saying that if he is elected president, he will undo many of them, especially those involving immigration, within an hour of taking the oath of office.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted that Obama’s action should be upheld “so families can stay together and live without fear of deportation.”
Immigration advocates such as Florida Immigrant Coalition Executive Director María Rodriguez also applauded the court’s decision to consider the case.
“Today’s announcement … is a step forward for immigrant families and the courageous organizers who have taken action in their defense,” Rodriguez said. “Lacking the protections afforded by DAPA … puts families one step closer to deportation and family separation, and further from the lives they should live as free and whole human beings.”
But Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a coalition of 26 states that filed the lawsuit against the Obama administration’s plan, notes that federal courts have ruled in favor of the states three times, most recently the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. In November, a divided three-judge panel upheld an injunction issued by a U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, shutting down the program while the legal case, United States v. Texas, proceeds.
“In deciding to hear this case, the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of the separation of powers,” Paxton said in a statement on his website. “There are limits to the President’s authority, and those limits enacted by Congress were exceeded when the President unilaterally sought to grant ‘lawful presence’ to more than 4 million unauthorized aliens who are in this country unlawfully.”
In his court filing, Solicitor General of the United States Donald Verrilli Jr. said that allowing those rulings to stand would force millions of people “to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families.”