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After Supreme Court Defeat, Obama Says Immigration Question Now Up To Voters

President Obama speaks in the White House briefing room on Thursday following the Supreme Court decision on immigration.
Andrew Harnik
President Obama speaks in the White House briefing room on Thursday following the Supreme Court decision on immigration.

Reacting to a deadlocked Supreme Court, President Obama said the ball is now in the court of the American voters when it comes to immigration.

Obama said the high court's 4-4 split does not change his deportation priorities. But he acknowledged that his administration will not be able to move forward with the programs put on hold by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and said he doesn't believe he will issue any more executive actions.

Obama said the Supreme Court's inability to reach a decision was "unfortunate" and "takes us further from the country that we aspire to be."

Voters have a serious choice in November, he said.

"We're going to have to make a decision about whether we are a people who tolerate the hypocrisy of a system where the workers who pick our fruit or make our beds never have the chance to get right with the law, or whether we're going to give them a chance, just like our forebears had a chance, to take responsibility and give their kids a better future," Obama said. "We're going to have to decide whether we're a people who accept the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms, or whether we actually value families and keep them together for the sake of all of our communities."

Obama added: "These are all the questions that voters now are going to have to ask themselves and are going to have to answer in November."

The president said that a 4-4 tie in a case this important is a "clear reminder of why it's so important for the Supreme Court to have a full bench."

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Obama nominated federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to take his place. The GOP-controlled Senate, however, has not brought up his nomination for a vote.

Seemingly giving up that fight, Obama said that in November, the American people will elect a new Congress and a new president who will eventually confirm a ninth justice who might ultimately help decide the legal merits of this case.

"I have pushed to the limits of my executive authority," Obama said. "We now have to have Congress act. And hopefully we are going to have a vigorous debate during this election. This is how democracy is supposed to work. And there will be a determination as to which direction we go in."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.