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Both sides declare victory in court's immigration ruling

The court struck down major parts of Arizona's tough immigration law, but it unanimously upheld the most controversial requirement – that police making arrests or traffic stops check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being here illegally. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

 

Updated 12:35 p.m. -- Democrats and Republicans each found something to cheer in the Supreme Court's ruling Monday on Arizona's controversial immigration law, reflecting the delicate politics surrounding immigration and the court's own mixed decision.

Each party found something to like and dislike in the Supreme Court's opinion, which struck down most components of the Arizona law but left in place one of its most controversial provisions: the requirement that authorities check the immigration status of anyone they detain who's reasonably suspected of being in the United States illegally.

President Obama said he was "pleased" the court had struck down key provisions of the law, while his likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, suggested the decision represented a rebuke of the president.

As NBC's Pete Williams reports, the Supreme Court has ruled key parts of the tough anti-illegal immigration law, enacted by Arizona in 2010, to be unconstitutional.

"What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system -– it’s part of the problem," Obama said. "At the same time, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally."

Romney, meanwhile, emphasized what he said were the president's own struggles to curb illegal immigration.

"Today's decision underscores the need for a president who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy," presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said in a written statement.

Yuri Gripas / Reuters

People protest against President Obama's health care reform in front of U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 25.

But Romney didn't address the components of the law that were thrown out or, alternatively, upheld by the court.

"I believe that each state has the duty -- and the right -- to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities," he said.

Both Obama and Romney's responses were emblematic of the mixed reactions prompted by the decision across the political spectrum.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the decision marked a vindication of the Obama administration's initial decision to challenge the Arizona law. Critics in the Democratic Party said that the law, including the prong that the Supreme Court upheld, would open the door to racial profiling.

"This is as strong a repudiation of the Arizona law as one could expect given that the law has not been implemented yet," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D). "Three linchpins of the Arizona law were struck down by a convincing majority of the Court as clearly violating federal law, and a fourth is on thin legal ice."

But Republicans found just as much to cheer in the court's ruling.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who first championed the law, called the decision "a victory for the rule of law."

While many elements of the law were struck down, the court upheld what Brewer called the "heart" of the law -- a requirement that authorities check the immigration status of anyone whom they suspect of being in the United States illegally.

The state's two Republican senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain, also cheered the court for appearing to validate the status-check portion of the Arizona law.

The president will participate a series of public events set Monday in New England; as a matter of coincidence, Romney is in Arizona today to attend fundraisers.

The issue of immigration has assumed broader political significance in the 2012 campaign, following the president's announcement earlier this month that his administration would cease deporting illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and would instead allow them to apply for temporary work visas. This shift, which achieved many of the intentions of a Republican version of the DREAM Act, was poised to mobilize Latino voters behind the president, who had otherwise fallen short on delivering on his promise of comprehensive immigration reform.

The administration's announcement also threatened to exacerbate Romney's gap against Obama among Latino voters, a growing bloc that could prove especially decisive in swing states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and beyond. An early May oversample of Latino voters in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 22 percent of Latinos had a positive opinion of the GOP, versus 50 percent who expressed a negative impression of the Republican Party.

Romney responded to the new immigration policy by promising to supersede it with his own "long-term" plan on immigration. But he hasn't specified how his plan would work, or what it would differ in practical terms from the Obama plan.

The former Massachusetts governor has wrestled with immigration as an issue writ large, but has also struggled with positioning himself on the Arizona law.

Romney called the Arizona law a "model" at a debate this February, though his campaign insisted Romney only meant that in terms of some of the employment parts of the law (which the Supreme Court threw out on Monday). The Romney campaign was also forced to distance itself from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), one of the principal authors of the Arizona law and another tough immigration law in Alabama.

But Romney also said at the same debate that "the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states" in addition to more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Romney had used immigration to pummel some of his opponents in the Republican primary from the right, making his pivot toward the general election even more difficult.