WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an unusual request from the Trump administration to decide whether it was entitled to shut down a program that shields some 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The court’s decision not to hear the administration’s appeal was expected, as no appeals court has yet ruled on the issue.
The court’s move came amid a complex political battle over immigration generally, and the program at issue in the case, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in particular.
The program shields people who were brought into the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work. The status lasts for two years but is renewable.
In September, the Trump administration announced that it would shut down the program on March 5. But two federal judges have ordered the administration to maintain major pieces of the program while legal challenges move forward, notably by requiring the administration to allow people enrolled in it to renew their protected status.
The administration did not seek stays of those court orders, and they will remain in place for the time being, allowing much of the program to survive beyond the March 5 deadline.
The case at the Supreme Court was brought in California by five sets of plaintiffs. They included four states — California, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota — and Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California. As secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration, Ms. Napolitano signed the document that established the program in 2012.
In January, Judge William H. Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco ruled that the administration had abused its discretion and had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in rescinding the program. Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn issued a similar ruling this month.
The judges acknowledged that presidents have broad powers to alter the policies of earlier administrations. But they said the Trump administration’s justifications for rescinding the program did not withstand scrutiny.
The administration had argued that the program was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch, 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.
The judges said the two programs differed in important ways, undermining the administration’s legal analysis. They noted, too, that Mr. Trump had issued conflicting statements about the DACA program.
Both judges issued nationwide injunctions ordering the administration to retain major elements of the program while the cases moved forward. Such nationwide injunctions from judges in individual cases, which have been used to block executive actions in both the Obama and Trump administrations, have been the subject of much commentary and criticism.
The judges required the administration to accept renewal applications but not new ones, and they said the administration need not allow existing participants to return to the United States after traveling abroad. And they noted that the administration retained broad powers to make individualized decisions based on national security, public safety and other factors.
The administration appealed Judge Alsup’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, and that court put the appeal on a fast track. In an unusual move, the administration also asked the Supreme Court to grant immediate review, leapfrogging the appeals court.
That procedure, called “certiorari before judgment,” is used rarely, typically in cases involving national crises like President Harry S. Truman’s seizure of the steel industry and President Richard M. Nixon’s refusal to turn over tape recordings to a special prosecutor.
In a brief urging the Supreme Court to deny review, lawyers for the University of California wrote that “it has been nearly 30 years since the court granted certiorari before judgment without the benefit of a court of appeals ruling on the question presented.”
In a second brief, lawyers for the four states wrote that no national emergency warranted use of the unusual procedure.
“Since 2012, the DACA program has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people to receive deferred action, work authorization and other benefits,” they wrote. “The district court’s preliminary injunction only partially and temporarily restores the situation that existed before petitioners’ abrupt decision to terminate the program — and only for individuals who had already received deferred action under DACA.”
“Petitioners are entitled to a prompt appeal,” the brief said, “but there is no imminent deadline posing a critical threat to the public interest of the sort that might justify bypassing the normal channels for that review.”
In the administration’s brief, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco told the justices that “an ongoing violation of federal law being committed by some 700,000 aliens” required the Supreme Court to act. But he did not ask the court to stay Judge Alsup’s injunction while the case moved forward. Mr. Francisco wrote that an immediate stay would interfere with the administration’s goal of an “orderly wind-down” of the program.