The Trump administration received a setback over its new rules banning asylum for people who illegally cross the US border. The judges denied a White House plea to allow the ban while lower courts address its legality.
The 5-4 vote by the justices on Friday was the latest setback in US President Donald Trump's controversial relationship with the country's top judges and courts.
Trump's administration had asked the Supreme Court to put on hold a federal judge's order temporarily blocking a policy that denies the right to asylum to anyone who crossed a US-Mexican border outside an official port of entry. On Friday, the Supreme Court refused the request.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision: "The Supreme Court's decision to leave the asylum ban blocked will save lives and keep vulnerable families and children from persecution. We are pleased the court refused to allow the administration to short-circuit the usual appellate process."
The US administration's new rules were a key element of its policies to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter and stay in the United States.
Trump's two Supreme Court appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, had voted for the administration's request.
But conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the four liberal justices to refuse it.
Last month, Roberts had rebuked Trump for his criticism of the judiciary and spoken out strongly in defense of its independence: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts had said.
Trump had issued a presidential proclamation on November 9 saying he was acting to protect the US national interest against the thousands of Central American migrants walking towards the US border with Mexico.
He claimed that migration had precipitated a crisis and his administration was seeking to restrict "meritless asylum claims from aliens who place a tremendous burden on our resources."
The US president has wide-ranging powers to determine US national security policy, but American asylum laws allow people fleeing persecution and violence in their homelands the ability to seek sanctuary in the United States.
jm/sms (Reuters, AP)