Supreme Court's Arizona decision: Enforcement wins

Letter date: 
Thursday, June 28, 2012
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Letter author: 
Joe Guzzardi
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The headlines about the Supreme Court decision on Arizona S. B. 1070 indicate that the justices cut the bill back to its bare bones.

In June 2010, Arizona passed legislation that allows law enforcement officers to inquire about immigration status when an individual is lawfully detained and suspected to be illegally present. But this week’s headlines are misleading. The law’s key provision, proof of status, remains.

Both camps, the pro-S.B. 1070 enforcement advocates and the anti-S.B. 1070 critics, claim the Court delivered them a victory.

Critics point to the Supreme Court invalidating three of the bill’s four provisions. Since President Obama ordered the Justice Department to sue Arizona, his supporters hailed the Court’s decision as a major triumph.

The emotionally charged, two year long debate about S.B. 1070 has always focused on whether the police should have the right to ask about legal presence with reasonable cause during a lawful stop. On that point, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s right in an 8-0 unanimous vote.

The three points the Supreme Court tossed were minor: 1) to make failure to comply with federal alien-registration requirements a state misdemeanor, 2) to establish a misdemeanor for an illegal alien to seek or engage in work in the State and 3) to authorize state and local officers to arrest without a warrant a person an officer has probable cause to believe has committed a public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.

Think back two years ago. None of the rejected arguments were the focus of the nationwide screaming match between the pro and anti forces. The confrontations centered exclusively on whether S.B. 1070, called the “show me your papers” law by it opponents, would result in “racial profiling.”

The court found that improbable and unanimously agreed that it’s constitutional to ask for proper identification under certain circumstances. From the majority opinion, the court noted that the law, as written, expressly forbids profiling. From his opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that there are three such limits in S.B. 1070 including one that officers “may not consider race, color or national origin . . . except to the extent permitted by the United States [and] Arizona Constitution[s].”

The outrage from S.B. 1070’s detractors proves who lost. Janet Murguia, National Council of La Raza’s chief executive officer, said the ruling places a “bull’s eye” on the backs of Arizona’s Hispanics. The American Civil Liberties Union admitted defeat and immediately launched a fund raising drive to, according to its email alert, “stop anti-immigrant laws from spreading across the nation.”

The court’s decision delivered on top of Obama’s recent announcement that illegal immigrants age 16-30 as well as other “low priority aliens” excused in his proclamation last year will not be deported assures that immigration policy will be front and center until November.

Justices Kennedy and Scalia, the ultimate non-partisans, had cautionary words for Obama who has decided that he alone determines immigration law. Observing that Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have all ignored federal immigration law, Justice Kennedy wrote that Arizona “bears many of the consequences of illegal immigration” as evidenced by an “epidemic of crime, safety risks, serious property damage, and environmental problems.”

Justice Scalia, in a scathing spoken address, noted that because of Obama’s prosecutorial discretion hundreds of thousands of aliens are “now immune from enforcement” and “will be able to compete openly with Arizona citizens for jobs.” Added Justice Scalia: “To say, as the court (majority) does that Arizona contradicts federal (law) by enforcing application of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind."

The federal government, with Obama’s blessing and encouragement, not only refuses to enforce its own laws, but also has ordered high ranking officials like Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to break the law. Napolitano, in turn, orders to her agents to ignore immigration regulations and substitute Obama’s personal versions.

Under a totalitarian Obama, democracy is a fast fading memory.

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact Joe at