The Supreme Court was evenly divided in a case involving President Barack Obama’s plan to shield millions of immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation, upholding a lower court’s ruling and effectively ending the initiative through the end of his presidency.

The Supreme Court heard the challenge to Obama’s signature immigration-related actions back in mid-April, in what was one of the most closely watched cases of its term.

A 4-4 vote leaves in place the decision of the lower court in the case, United States v. Texas. That decision blocked the implementation of the actions.

One vacant seat is open on the court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

During the challenge, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts, one of whose votes the Obama administration would have needed to prevail in the case, “sharply questioned” the administration’s attorney, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Kennedy said Congress, not the president, had the authority to decide which groups of immigrants could stay lawfully in the United States,” the paper reported.

“It is a legislative act, not an executive act,” Kennedy said, according to the Times.

Obama’s executive actions, proposed in 2014, aimed to focus deportation efforts on criminally engaged immigrants who are in the country illegally, while providing relief to those who are law-abiding and meet certain qualifications.

Soon after, lawyers representing Texas and 25 other Republican-led states filed a suit in federal court in Brownsville, Texas. Those states claimed that the costs of issuing state identification cards to the immigrants would be a heavy burden. A US district judge sided with the states, saying that they had the standing to sue the federal government. That decision was upheld in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last year.

Kennedy, a typical swing vote on the high court, seemed to side with the states’ argument, The Hill reported.

“It seems to me that’s a legislative, not an executive task,” he said. “It’s as if the president is setting the policy and the Congress is executing it. … That seems upside down.”

In April, the court appeared “deadlocked” in the case.

NOW WATCH: The number of times Obama has had to respond to mass shootings during his presidency is staggering

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.