Two judges who dealt a significant blow to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration last month will again play key roles in deciding whether the controversial programs are legally sound.

Fifth Circuit Court Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Jerry Smith, both Republican appointees, in May ruled against the Obama administration’s request to proceed with the executive actions — which would protect more than 4 million immigrants here illegally from being deported — while the larger case on the legal merits of the new programs winds through the courts.

And on July 10, they’ll both again hear arguments from Justice Department lawyers and officials from more than two dozen GOP-led states who have sued to stop the immigration actions, when the Fifth Circuit takes up the broader legal case.

The selection of Elrod and Smith was a surprise, since many observers expected that a different panel of three judges would be chosen to decide the broader legal issues. But the selection of Smith — who wrote the opinion denying the administration’s request for an emergency stay — and Elrod suggests Obama likely won’t have much luck winning the case at the Fifth Circuit, considered the most conservative appeals court in the nation.

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