01:43 - Source: CNN
SCOTUS appears divided on Obama immigration action

Story highlights

Only eight justices heard the challenge to President Obama's actions on immigration

The hearing put the focus on Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination

Washington CNN —  

Hundreds of protesters yelled and chanted in front of the Supreme Court Monday while the eight justices heard a potentially landmark immigration case. But much of the focus was on a person who wasn’t there: Merrick Garland.

With justices appearing to be split on ideological lines about the future of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and deportation, the stakes of the fight to confirm Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia were readily apparent both inside and outside the courthouse.

Supreme Court divided on Obama’s immigration actions

A small band of tea party protesters encamped in front of the court said their main focus was making sure that seat stayed empty until after the election. Because if Obama’s nominee made it to the court, this case and others could be slam-dunk for the liberal wing.

“Our number one purpose of being here is supporting the senators better standing strong on no votes on the new Supreme Court justice,” said Gregg Cummings, a protester with Tea Party Patriots who came in from Lamoni, Iowa.

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican and one of the staunchest opponents of Obama’s executive actions on immigration, was surrounded as he left the rally by pro-immigration protesters shouting “Shame on you!”

“The President made a couple of irresponsible appointments to the Supreme Court and we can’t let him make another one,” King said. “He is incapable of nominating someone to the Supreme Court who believes deeply in their soul that the Constitution means what it says and it must be interpreted to mean what it was understood to mean at the time of ratification.”

After he finished his argument before the justices, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he was confident they would decide in his favor. But he said the impact of the vacancy was noticed.

“I think it’s irresponsible for anyone in Congress, in the Senate to prevent the seating of a ninth justice, not for this case where I’m convinced we will get a majority of the eight but for the cases that may come up now and after the election when they might decide to do their jobs,” Saenz said. “They should do their job now and provide a full court.”

Garland has made some inroads among Senate Republicans, meeting with Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Mark Kirk, John Boozman and others. But he and the coordinated Obama lobbying effort have yet to put a crack in the Republican leadership’s insistence that neither hearings nor a vote will be held on his nomination.

Garland is scheduled to sit down with five senators this week, including a Wednesday meeting with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. By the end of week this will total 40 senators Garland has met with, including 10 Republicans, Earnest said.

Pro-immigration protesters said they were angry that a potentially decisive ninth justice was being kept from the court.

Miguel Delarosa, a union organizer from Queens, New York, stood with a sign reading “Deport Trump” and a black hat with a sticker saying the same.

“I feel like they’re spitting in my face,” Delarosa said of the Republicans blocking Garland’s nomination.

He said that opponents don’t appreciate the benefits, like in-state tuition, that many immigrants are not receiving.

“I know a lot of people, for example, like my sister, she wasn’t born here she was born in Mexico,” he said. “She went to school, she had to pay for college out of pocket, she got her masters degree and now is teaching at a charter school.”