Saturday, July 31, 2010

Whoa, Arizona:
Judge rejects Untied States

When the Justices of the United States Supreme Court take down the Gone Fishin’ sign that hangs in the court window until the first Monday in October, Action Item #1 or #2 may already be bearing down on them: a role in the settlement of what is shaping up to be the heaviest, most potentially transformative domestic issue to face the high court since Roe v. Wade.

The immigration debate moved into a new phase on Wednesday, hours before imposition of SB 1070, the severe anti-immigration measure previously signed into law by the governor of the Arizona Territory. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Bolton imposed a preliminary injunction against part of the law that required immigrants to carry residency papers, and which tasked police officers with responsibility for determining the residency status of criminal suspects or those suspected (in the broadest, most imprecise application of the word) of being undocumented aliens.

Other parts of the law, basically tweaks of the Arizona immigration laws already on the books, went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

In Bolton’s reasoned rebuke of the rationale behind some of the controversial Arizona measure, there was some understanding of the challenge faced by Arizona. Bolton said that “the court by no means disregards Arizona’s interests in controlling illegal immigration and addressing the current problems of crime including the trafficking of humans, drugs, guns and money.”

But, “even though Arizona’s interest may be consistent with those of the federal government, it is not in the public interest for Arizona to enforce pre-emptive laws. ...”

"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," Bolton, a Clinton appointee, said in her decision.

And Bolton ruled that, despite Arizona’s frustration with the current state of immigration control, states weren’t free to arbitrarily set laws that could pre-emptively catch up citizens as well as undocumenteds. Part of the Arizona law, she ruled, “increas[es] the intrusion of police presence into the lives of legally present aliens and even United States citizens who will necessarily be swept up by this requirement.”

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Supporters of SB 1070 announced intention to stay the course, despite a lack of support from (among others) some of the very law enforcement personnel expected to enforce the law (police officers in Tucson and Phoenix have filed suit against the law). “It's a temporary bump in the road, we will move forward, and I'm sure that after consultation with our counsel we will appeal," territorial Gov. Jan Brewer told the Associated Press. "The bottom line is, we've known all along that it is the responsibility of the feds and they haven't done their job, so we were going to help them do that."

And state Rep. Rick Murphy, a Republican, sent the Supremes an early welcome-back message. “We pretty much expected we would have to go and win at the Supreme Court level,” he said late Wednesday on MSNBC.

Arizona Immigration Law Preliminary Injuction

Bolton’s ruling that that the power to regulate immigration rests solely with the federal government was a full-on undiluted win for the Obama administration, in a week when they needed a victory.

The Justice Department, in a statement, hailed the unifying principle of the judge’s ruling, saying that if Arizona were left unchecked and states set immigration laws on their own, “a patchwork of state and local policies [could] ultimately be unproductive.”

Arizona appealed on Thursday, of course, asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to fast-track the matter and hold hearings in September. The appellate court, wisely deciding not to let this become an issue any time before the November vote, set hearings for after the elections. NBC News’ Pete Williams said we should expect dueling lawyers, since the Justice Department is likely to appeal the rest of the Arizona law that went into effect on Thursday.

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Bolton’s ruling was several things at once. Besides being something that would naturally antagonize the birthers and nativists animating the immigration debate, the ruling demonstrated to anyone paying attention how the whole notion of “states’ rights” could be tragically misapplied, if not for the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, section 2).

According to the group Americans for Legal Immigration, 19 other states are weighing similar immigration control measures, watching to see how it plays out in Arizona. The language of Bolton’s ruling is an implicit warning against the worst of this groundswell scenario. Envision: 50 different states enacting 50 different approaches to immigration control within their borders and nowhere else; 50 different thresholds of innocence and culpability; 50 different legislatures fashioning immigration reform that’s tailor-made to their unique circumstances and no one else’s; 50 chapters of the Minutemen organization on armed patrol. Fifty concessions to the idea of secession.

We can thank Judge Bolton for reasserting that which should be obvious to everyone but the most stubbornly ideological among us — that which the supremacy clause is intended to reinforce: The existential question of what identifies us and binds us as Americans, both by letter and by spirit, is central to our identity as a nation, and most properly addressed by the government that represents and symbolizes this nation — the unum in e pluribus unum, a single entity, not an assortment of malcontent ... territories enforcing measures animated as much by passion as by intellect, as much by ideology as by the law.

We live in the United States of America, not the Untied States of America. Whenever Arizona’s way of handling the immigration issue hits the big docket some time this year, you have to believe the Supreme Court of the United States of America will validate that — 9-0.

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