The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to review President Obama’s plan to shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, after lower courts blocked the president’s sweeping executive actions from taking effect.
The decision sets up an election-year clash over the controversial plan that many Republicans have likened to “amnesty.”
The justices said Tuesday they will consider undoing lower court rulings that blocked the plan from taking effect. The Obama administration had appealed to the Supreme Court last fall.
The decision to review the case may be welcome on both sides of the aisle. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, issued a statement praising the court for taking it on – and urging the justices to rule against the administration.
"President Obama’s executive action is an affront to our system of republican self-government,” Hatch said. "The Constitution vests legislative authority in Congress, not the President. With his actions, President Obama has attempted to bypass the constitutionally ordained legislative process and rewrite the law unilaterally.”
The White House voiced confidence their policies would be upheld.
"Like millions of families across this country – immigrants who want to be held accountable, to work on the books, to pay taxes, and to contribute to our society openly and honestly – we are pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to review the immigration case,” spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in a statement.
The case probably will be argued in April and decided by late June, about a month before both parties' presidential nominating conventions. The issue of illegal immigration has taken a center-stage role in the Republican primary battle, as Donald Trump calls for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and candidates spar over who is toughest on the issue.
The immigrants who would benefit from the Obama administration's plan are mainly the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
But more than two-dozen mostly Republican-led states challenged Obama’s executive actions after they were rolled out in 2014, and the plan has been tied up in litigation ever since.
Critics say the plan is unconstitutional. Shortly before the administration took the case to the Supreme Court, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the states in early November.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. later said in a court filing 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."
At issue is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, which Obama said would allow people who have been in the United States more than five years and who have children who are in the country legally to "come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
Texas is leading 26 states in challenging the immigration plan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.