A final ruling by the Supreme Court on President Barack Obama’s immigration executive action could come in time to have an impact on the 2016 elections and the Latino vote.
Obama’s decision to authorize deportation deferrals and work permits to millions of immigrants already has been an issue in the presidential race.
But on Tuesday the Supreme Court decided to consider all of the plaintiff’s arguments against Obama's immigration executive action that he took in late 2014.
That means that a final decision could come at the end of this year’s term, around late June or early July, setting up another summer with the sort of blockbuster rulings that send news and legal interns bolting across the court’s plaza with the ruling.
Final state primaries are June 7, followed by the District of Columbia primary on June 14. The Republican and Democratic conventions are scheduled for July.
“It’s encouraging that the Supreme Court actually ordered both sides to address the full case, and not just the procedural issues that the lower courts focused on,” said Bradley Jenkins, an attorney with Catholic Legal Immigration Network, which represents immigrants.
“This is a signal that the Court wants to give a final answer on the validity of the executive actions and is not inclined to send the case back to (U.S. District) Judge (Andrew) Hanen,” Jenkins told NBC News Latino.
Hanen delivered the original ruling last February that blocked the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) from being implemented.
The president’s action and the Texas-led lawsuit backed by 25 other states already has drawn sharp distinctions between candidates of the two parties.
Democrats generally back the president’s action and Republicans say he overstepped his constitutional authority and didn't follow procedures for implementing a new government program.
Some candidates have threatened to repeal the deportation deferrals on day one of their presidency while others say they would take more action.
“Even if it doesn’t come through, (Obama) is the one who supported it and it will crystalize the need to have a Democrat in the White House to at least protect the Dreamers and eventually have immigration reform."
Federico de Jesús, a Democratic strategist, said the expected timing of the final ruling and the Supreme Court agreement to consider the full merits of the case is a win-win for Democrats.
“I think the decision will cement Obama’s legacy with Latino voters and on the immigration issue,” de Jesús said. He said it could have an impact similar to what Obama’s decision to authorize the original DACA had on the 2012 race against Republican Mitt Romney.
That year, Romney was promoting “self-deportation” for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, while Obama had provided deportation deferrals to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who had grown up in the U.S., despite not having legal permission to be here. They are often referred to as Dreamers.
“Even if it doesn’t come through, (Obama) is the one who supported it and it will crystalize the need to have a Democrat in the White House to at least protect the Dreamers and eventually have immigration reform,” he said.
On the Republican side, a big factor will be who has emerged as the party’s nominee.
There’s no doubt the majority of Latinos will vote Democrat, but Republicans need about 40 percent to 45 percent of the Latino vote to win the general election.
If the nominee is Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the party is unlikely to reach that threshold, said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director for Latino Partnership for Executive Principles. Aguilar and a group of Republican Hispanics have publicly condemned Trump and Cruz for their campaign statements on immigrants.
“It’s going to put them in a tough position, if in the general election, they say, ‘If I’m elected I’m going to repeal. That’s going to put you in a tough position with Hispanic voters, the majority (of which) is going to support” the ruling, Aguilar said.
But if Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush have won the nomination, the court’s ruling could play a role in the GOP capturing the needed chunk of Latino votes, he said.
Based on the court’s ruling on Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, known as SB1070, Aguilar projects the court will validate Obama’s executive action 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy being the swing vote.
“The best answer is to say what Jeb (Bush) is saying, that he’s going to repeal the executive action, but will have legislation that provides a path to legal status.
“If the decision is against executive action, which I doubt it’s going to be, it will be a terrible blow to Hillary (Clinton) and (Bernie) Sanders,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar said the Latino electorate would then want to know what is Plan B, but Democrats have already signaled “they don’t want to work with Congress” by promising to go further on executive actions.
Brenda Guigui of Las Vegas, who is 22 and is registered to vote, made clear that the issue has a direct effect on her – her parents do not have legal status – and that the outcome will influence her vote.
“Conservative politicians who are always attacking immigrants went to court to stop DAPA,” Guigui said in a statement provided by Mi Familia Vota, which works to turn out the Latino vote and supports immigration reform.
“But they forgot an important fact: Millions of immigrants have made their lives here and have children who are citizens like me who are old enough to vote,” Guigui said.