The Supreme Court handed the Obama administration a procedural but important victory Tuesday in its efforts to get the justices to rule next year on President Obama's plan to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.

The court rejected a request from Texas and other states for a 30-day extension to file legal briefs in support of the lawsuit to block the immigration plan. If granted, the extension would have made it very unlikely that the court could hear the case during its current term.

Instead, the justices accepted the Justice Department's request for a shortened eight-day extension, meaning that if the court decides to take the case a decision would probably come by late June. A victory for the government would allow it to start enrolling immigrants in the program before the president leaves office in January 2017 - an outcome the administration has been seeking with heightened urgency.

The court is not expected to decide until January whether to take the case. If it does, the decision would come in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign. Immigration policy and Obama's efforts to protect immigrants already living in the United States have emerged as heated campaign topics.

The legal and political debate centers on Obama's plan, announced in November 2014, to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to live and work in the United States for three years without fear of deportation. The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) allows parents of U.S. citizens to apply for work permits, provided they have lived in the country for at least five years and pass required background checks.

Obama has made reforming the immigration system a top second-term priority, and he acted unilaterally after Republicans blocked a comprehensive bill. But a federal judge in Texas blocked his immigration program in February after Texas and 25 other states sued the administration, calling the moves unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last month upheld the injunction preventing the deferred-action program from taking effect, prompting the administration to seek Supreme Court review.