AUSTIN (KXAN/AP) — The Supreme Court’s deadlock on the White House’s efforts to shield millions who are living in the U.S. illegally from deportation is a major victory-by-default for Texas and 25 other Republican-dominated states, it could also factor into presidential electoral politics. The states argued that President Barack Obama was overstepping his executive authority thwarted what might otherwise have been legacy-defining policy.
The hotly debated direction of America’s national immigration policy as well as the balance of power on the high court now will be determined in large part by the presidential and congressional elections. Immigration and the court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February already were featuring prominently in the campaign.
Scalia’s vote likely would have meant an outright ruling against Obama’s immigration expansion rather than the 4-4 tie, a much more significant defeat for the president and immigrant advocates.
“I think it’s only serving as another reason to talk to even more folks about why they should be involved, why we should be acting differently,” said Oscar Silva political director for the Democratic organization Battleground Texas a first-generation American, the son of immigrants.
“Latino voter turnout has been one of the grails, if you will, of both political parties to some degree,” said James Henson, Ph. D., director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Henson says Democrats try to get more Latino voters to the polls, while Republicans also fight to maintain a share of support from that demographic in Texas.
“It’s hard to see the decision as having some fundamental earthquake kind of effect. It’s likely to reinforce dynamics that we already see in play,” said Henson.
Those dynamics include politicians trying to frame the issue: The affect of immigration rules on families on the one hand and charges of White House overreach on the other.
“Those who want enforcement of immigration laws, they should be paying particular attention to the presidential race. So, it actually should be that side who is more motivated to turn out in November,” said James Dickey, former chairman of the Travis County Republican Party.
In practical terms, an election victory by Trump could mean an end to the programs anyway, since he has vowed to deport the roughly 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
If Clinton wins, the Senate will at some point fill the vacancy created by Scalia’s death, either with Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, or a Clinton choice. In either case, legal challenges would come to a court with a majority of Democratic-appointed justices.
The Republican-led Senate has refused to hold a hearing or a vote on Garland’s nomination. He would not have been able to participate in the cases argued this term, but the court might have avoided 4-4 ties and ordered cases to be argued anew in the next term if he had been confirmed.
Immigration attorney Delissa Bressler joined us in the studio to answer some of the questions left in the air after the Supreme Court decision.
Associated Press writers Lisa Lerer in Washington and Deepti Hajela, in New York City, contributed to this report.