When Judge Susan Bolton granted an injunction halting the enforcement of key provisions of the Arizona immigration enforcement law, she ruled in favor of the Justice Department's position, but against the president's political interest.
Had the judge sustained this law, it would have made moot Barack Obama's opposition to the Arizona law. As it is, she has transformed the law into a big campaign issue against Obama. Now the president is standing in the way of a state that wants to enforce the law that he won't.
The Arizona law is massively popular in the United States. Over 60 percent of all American voters support it. But the president has sought and has succeeded in stopping it from taking effect. Now this majority -- close to two-thirds of the electorate -- that backs the law will be able to focus their blame for its non-enforcement squarely on the president of the United States.
In the long term, the Bolton decision will likely be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Arizona will find itself vindicated. But, in the meantime, the decision endangers the re-election chances of three Democratic representatives from Arizona. Their constituents will not be satisfied with statements from these Democrats supporting the Arizona law. They will become embittered because Obama's Justice Department has overridden their will.
Why did Obama bring the suit in the first place if it hurts him? Because he was seeking to increase the turnout of Latino voters and trying to win them by the same huge margin (two to one) that they delivered to him in 2008. Since he took office, Obama's approval among Hispanics has dropped to 54 percent, foreshadowing a massive abandonment of his congressional candidates in November.
But what Obama miscalculated was the intense support from among most voters that the Arizona law has elicited. As he bid for Latino votes, he has sacrificed much of his liberal, Democratic base.
This decision hurts him badly.