WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will decide whether the Trump administration may shut down a program that shields some 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation, the court said on Friday.
The court will hear arguments in the case during its next term, which starts in October, and will probably issue its decision in the spring or summer of 2020, ensuring a fierce immigration debate over the outcome in the midst of the presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump tried to end the program in 2017, when he called it an unconstitutional use of executive power by President Barack Obama and revived the threat of deportation for immigrants who had been brought to the United States illegally as young children.
But federal judges have ordered the administration to maintain major pieces of the program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, while legal challenges move forward.
The fate of the DACA program and the young immigrants it protects, who are often called Dreamers, has been at the center of some of the most heated immigration debates in Washington since Mr. Trump became president.
Lawmakers in both parties had urged Mr. Trump not to end it, but he rejected that advice in September of 2017, calling the program an “end-run around Congress” and saying that Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority to protect the immigrants violated “the core tenets that sustain our Republic.”
At the same time, Mr. Trump — who has often expressed sympathy for the young immigrants — delayed the program’s termination by six months and urged Congress to pass legislation that would permanently protect them from deportation and give them an eventual path to citizenship.
With the deadline for the end of the program looming, several attempts to negotiate a deal between the White House and lawmakers failed amid demands from Mr. Trump for restrictive changes to immigration laws and billions of dollars to build a wall along the southwestern border.
The immediate pressure to make a deal faded when the courts temporarily forced Mr. Trump to continue operating the program. But that could change again if the court rules that the administration can end it.
In November, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled against the administration. It acknowledged that presidents have broad powers to alter the policies of earlier administrations but said the legal rationale offered by the Trump administration did not withstand scrutiny. The court also questioned “the cruelty and wastefulness of deporting productive young people to countries with which they have no ties.”
In May, a second federal appeals court, the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., issued a similar ruling.
The Trump administration has long sought to persuade the Supreme Court to rule on whether it had the authority to cancel the program. But the justices turned down an unusual petition seeking review filed in January 2018, before any appeals court had ruled. The administration asked again in November 2018, not long before the Ninth Circuit ruled. For many months, the Supreme Court took no action on the request, which was at odds with the court’s usual practice.
In May, the administration filed yet another petition, this one seeking review of the Fourth Circuit’s decision.
The administration has argued that the program was an unconstitutional exercise of executive authority, relying on a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, concerning a related program. The Supreme Court deadlocked, 4 to 4, in an appeal of that ruling.
But the Ninth Circuit said the two programs differed in important ways, undermining the administration’s legal analysis. The appeals court affirmed a nationwide injunction ordering the administration to retain major elements of the program while the case moved forward. Such nationwide injunctions, which have been used by courts to block executive actions in both the Obama and the Trump administrations, have been the subject of much commentary and criticism.
The decision by the Supreme Court to take the case could provide new motivation for lawmakers and the White House to try and reach a deal before a ruling that might open hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the threat of immediate deportation.
If a deal is not reached, a decision by the court next summer could roil the presidential campaign, no matter which way the court rules.
A decision to let the Trump administration end the program could energize angry Democratic voters and immigration advocates to campaign even more aggressively against the president. If the court prevents Mr. Trump from ending DACA, that could fire up his base of voters.