The Supreme Court’s split decision on Arizona’s immigration law gave President Barack Obama an important legal victory Monday while upholding just enough of the statute to keep the issue alive as he pursues Latino voters in advance of the November election. Indeed, the president’s advantage on the issue was clear given that top Republicans either declined to respond or, in the case of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, issued statements that vaguely supported states rights without commenting on the specifics of the tough Arizona law. The controversial “papers please” section of the law requiring police officers to try to ascertain the immigration status of people they suspect to be illegal immigrants was upheld, while the rest of the law adding state criminal penalties for immigration violations was gutted in a 5-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. With the states constrained, the onus is squarely on Congress to fix the nation’s immigration system, but nothing beyond partisan posturing is likely on that front before November.
Democratic leaders and Obama quickly praised the bulk of the ruling while fretting that the remaining piece could lead to racial profiling. They called on Republicans to join them in supporting comprehensive immigration reform but do not expect the GOP to do so. Indeed, the past decade has seen a string of failures to advance immigration reform in Congress, even when one party or the other held the White House and both legislative chambers at the same time. Still, the political benefits of the issue and the ruling were not lost on Democrats, as they angle to ensure a high turnout from Latino voters in November.