DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hamstrung, that is what the United States Supreme Court was yesterday on the issue of immigration. With one seat vacant on the high court, the justices deadlocked on President Obama's program to give temporary work permits to some undocumented immigrants whose children are American citizens. The court, however, did resolve another thorny question on affirmative action in higher education. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The immigration decision is more accurately a non-decision. The tie vote means that a lower court ruling that invalidated the program remains in place, at least for now. So the Obama plan is dead, and it will fall to the next president to determine how broad his or her powers will be. A President Trump may seek to block all Muslims from entering the United States while a President Clinton might make some attempt to legalize some portion of the 11 million immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally. In either event, the Supreme Court would have the last word. For now though, the court's non-decision will have an immediate effect, says former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger.
WALTER DELLINGER: This will place the immigration debate in this country on steroids.
TOTENBERG: With immigration in limbo, the court did manage to reach a decision on another big issue. For the third time in nearly four decades, it gave its blessing to limited affirmative action plans in higher education. With Justice Elena Kagan recused, the justices, by a 4 to 3 vote, upheld the program at the University of Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the fourth and decisive vote and wrote the court's opinion. It was the first time he's voted in favor of a race-conscious program.
The decision was a bitter disappointment for conservative activists who've pushed to eliminate any consideration of race, whether in college admissions or procedures to protect minority voters from discrimination. But others had a different view. Harvard law professor Charles Fried, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, has come to grudgingly see some of its advantages. He notes that the court in 1978 accepted a compromise on this prickly issue - no quotas but race can be one of many factors in university admission.
CHARLES FRIED: It sort of made no sense, but we lived with it ever since. And it's more or less worked.
TOTENBERG: The court is expected to wrap up its term next week with abortion, gun rights and public corruption cases yet to be decided. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.