Supreme Court agrees to review Obama's executive actions on immigration
US President Barack Obama speaks in Watertown, South Dakota on May 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear President Barack Obama's bid to resurrect his plan to shield more than 4 million illegal immigrants from deportation, a unilateral executive action he took in 2014 to bypass the Republican-led Congress.


The dispute, to be argued before the court in the coming months with a ruling due by the end of June, will be one of the centerpiece cases of the court's current term. Obama's executive action was blocked by lower courts after Texas and 25 other Republican-governed sued to stop it, contending he exceeded his presidential powers under the U.S. Constitution.

The nine justices will review a November ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a February 2015 decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, a city along the Texas border with Mexico, to halt Obama's action.

With some of his major legislative initiatives suffocated by Republican lawmakers, the Democratic president has resorted to executive action to get around Congress on issues including immigration, gun control and the Obamacare healthcare law. The most recent executive action came this month when he acted unilaterally to expand background checks for certain gun purchases.

His executive actions have antagonized Republicans who accuse him of unlawfully taking actions by executive fiat that only Congress can perform.

Obama's November 2014 executive order lifting the threat of deportation against more than 4 million illegal immigrants was directed at people with no criminal record whose children are U.S. citizens.

Those eligible would be able to work legally and receive some federal benefits. States were not required to provide any benefits. The order expanded on a 2012 program that provided similar relief for people who became illegal immigrants as children. That program went into effect, with the government saying that more than 600,000 people successfully applied.

The case is one of the most important the Supreme Court will decide this term, along with a challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law.

If the court sides with the Obama administration, Obama would have until his term in office ends in January 2017 to implement the immigration plan. With the U.S. presidential election looming in November, it would be up to the next president to decide whether to keep it in place.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)