The first crucial vote of the 2016 general election might now belong to the Supreme Court.
When the high court decides in late June whether President Obama’s executive actions on immigration pass constitutional muster, the justices won’t merely be weighing in on policy choices made by the current president—they will, in effect, be ruling on the viability of Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform.
The stakes in the case are big enough as it is. Millions of undocumented immigrants will be waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether they can apply for protective status that will shield them from deportation. (Lower court injunctions have temporarily halted the program.) And Obama’s legacy on immigration could similarly hinge on the justices’ ruling: Either he’ll be known as a president who secured legal status for a generation of immigrants, or he’ll be remembered for having a key promise blocked both by Congress and the courts.
Yet the political consequences of the decision will be greatest for Clinton, who is relying on an even more aggressive use of the executive powers of the presidency to convince voters that she can credibly build on Obama’s domestic record even if she’s paired with a hostile Republican Congress. That is particularly the case on immigration, where Clinton has pledged to expand on Obama’s deferred action program by including the parents of DREAMers—immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally as children. The policy Obama announced in late 2014 only protects an estimated 4.3 million immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and green-card holders. Clinton’s plan would cover potentially millions more, but if the court rules against the Obama administration, it would be dead before she ever took office.