The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a request by the Trump administration to intervene in a case affecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who face deportation, saying that a lower appeals court must first rule on the matter.
The administration had made a highly unusual bid to bypass a federal appeals court and get the Supreme Court to immediately rule on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
In a brief order Monday, the high court said it will not take up the matter at this time and that it expects the lower court to "proceed expeditiously to decide this case."
DACA has provided protection from deportation and work permits for about 700,000 young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Last September, President Donald Trump announced he would let the program expire in March, arguing that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had exceeded his executive powers when Obama created the program.
In recent weeks, federal judges in San Francisco and New York have issued nationwide injunctions against ending the program, effectively blocking the administration from stopping it on March 5 as planned.
Now, an appellate court will review those decisions and the issue may not return to the Supreme Court until its next term.
Trump said Monday that his administration tried to get the case "moved quickly" but said the Supreme Court ruled "it has to go through the normal channel."
Trump argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is biased against his administration. "We lose [at the 9th], we lose, we lose, and then we do fine in the Supreme Court. But what does that tell you about our court system? It’s a very, very sad thing," he said.
In a statement Monday, the White House did not criticize the Supreme Court for declining to take up the case, but said the DACA program "is clearly unlawful."
White House spokesman Raj Shah said a lower court's ruling to "reimpose a program that Congress had explicitly and repeatedly rejected is a usurpation of legislative authority."
"We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail," he added
Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley acknowledged that the Supreme Court "very rarely" hears a case before a lower appeals court has considered it; however, he said the administration's view was that such an intervention "was warranted" in this case.
Congress has also tried to address the DACA issue but has been unable to find consensus. The Senate debated the matter earlier this month and could not pass any legislation.