WASHINGTON • The US Supreme Court has thwarted President Barack Obama's plan to offer millions of undocumented immigrants relief from deportation, but the decision could help Mrs Hillary Clinton in her bid for the White House.
The court left in place a lower court's 16-month-old injunction against Mr Obama's immigration programme for exceeding his executive powers. Thursday's decision simply said: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court."
Liberal and conservative judges at the top court were tied 4-4 on the decision, reflecting the contentious election-year debate over immigration policy and presidential power in the United States.
House Speaker Paul Ryan described the deadlocked court ruling as a vindication of the Republican view that Mr Obama had abused his authority in ordering immigration changes affecting up to five million unauthorised immigrants.
But that optimism may not carry over to the campaign trail. Democrats believe the ruling would energise a voter registration drive intended to benefit Mrs Clinton in her presidential campaign against billionaire Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate.
The Clinton campaign has long planned an aggressive effort to mobilise the estimated 27 million eligible Hispanic voters nationwide.
Ms Lorella Praeli, the campaign's Latino vote director, said the ruling will add to Latino anger with Mr Trump for comments like calling a federal judge unfit to preside in a case against the tycoon because of his Mexican-American heritage.
Mr Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida, one of the most competitive battleground states, predicted that Mrs Clinton could win as much as 70 per cent of Hispanic votes in the state, compared with the 60 per cent Mr Obama won in 2012.
Immigration is "sort of like a basic pass/fail" test with Hispanic voters, Mr Schale said, adding that Hispanics are tuning out Mr Trump because of his labelling of immigration reform as "amnesty" and his promise to deport millions of immigrants who are in the US illegally.
Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump quickly issued statements on Thursday that agreed on only one point: The outcome of the presidential election will determine the direction of the nation's immigration laws.
"The election and the Supreme Court appointments that come with it will decide whether or not we have a border and, hence, a country," Mr Trump said, accusing his opponent of pledging to "expand Obama's executive amnesty".
Mrs Clinton said the ruling showed "us all just how high the stakes are" because Mr Trump has "called for creating a deportation force to tear 11 million people away from their families and their homes". There are about 11 million immigrants in the US illegally.
"My heart is really breaking for the five million people in this country who've been waiting for the decision," she said in an interview with Telemundo.
Mr Obama himself acknowledged the issue now rested with voters. "We've got a choice about who we're going to be as a country, what we want to teach our kids, and how we want to be represented in Congress, and in the White House," he told reporters.
"Americans are going to have to make a decision about what we care about and who we are."
NEW YORK TIMES