The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal judge's order blocking the Trump administration's new asylum restrictions.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberal justices in the 5-4 ruling.
The administration's policy, signed on November 9, would temporarily bar migrants who illegally cross into the US through the southern border from seeking asylum outside of official ports of entry. A federal judge in California quickly blocked the order, and the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
"It's a major blow to the Trump administration, and sends a strong signal that there are at least five Justices who agree with the district court that the asylum ban exceeds the President's statutory authority," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said they would have granted the administration's request to lift the hold on the ban. This is the first high-profile vote in which Kavanaugh broke from Roberts. Earlier this year, he and Roberts joined with liberals to rebuff efforts by states seeking to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood .
The district court last month said the ban "irreconcilably conflicts" with immigration law. A panel of judges on the 9th circuit upheld the injunction in an opinion penned by Judge Jay Bybee, a George W. Bush nominee.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco asked the Supreme Court to greenlight the regulations pending appeal because he said they are "designed to channel asylum seekers to ports of entry, where their claims can be processed in an orderly manner; deter unlawful dangerous border crossings; and reduce the backlog of a meritless asylum claims."
He said that contrary to the holding of the lower court, immigration law allows the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security to exercise their discretion to deny asylum to a migrant who has entered the nation illegally.
Francisco said that even if the justices decided not to lift the injunction they should scale back a nationwide injunction imposed by the lower court.
He also argued that the challengers did not have the legal right to bring the case because they are advocacy groups and not individual aliens.
This story is breaking and will be updated.