June 27, 2012
In the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. United States, it may be hard to gauge who, exactly, came away the victors.
After all, at the same time that President Obama was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” Arizona Governor Janet Brewer claimed “victory” from the ruling.
How could these two each claim the ruling favored his or her respective side when they are camped on opposite sides of the ideological riverbank?
Because the Supreme Court struck down three of the four provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, but left one in place.
The three that were struck down were Section 3, Section 5(c), and Section 6.
Section 3 would have criminalized the failure to carry federal registration documents, Section 5(c) would have criminally sanctioned immigrants who engaged in unauthorized employment, and Section 6 would have allowed warrantless arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants.
The surviving provision – Section 2(b) – requires state law enforcement to make a “reasonable attempt…to determine the immigration status” of any person they stop, detain, or arrest on some other legitimate basis if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.”
This section probably received the most attention in the media since many of its opponents claimed that it would lead to racial profiling and longer police detentions of such suspects.
The fact that this provision survived is being trumpeted by many as a loss for Obama.
For example, Reuters Legal tweeted immediately after the ruling was announced that the ruling was a “defeat for Obama.”
But was it?
Let me give you a hint: no.
In fact, the ruling was probably the most resounding victory President Obama could have asked for.
Hot Doc: Arizona v. United States
First of all, the three sections struck down by the Court were the only ones that provided any enforcement power to Arizona authorities.
In striking them down, the majority opinion reaffirmed the Federal Government’s “extensive and complex” authority “to determine immigration policy,” finding that these sections conflicted with federal regulation of immigration.
In other words, the Court ruled that any state laws that provided criminal sanctions for being present in the country unlawfully are unconstitutional – a stance that will summarily invalidate many state laws across the country.
Secondly, because the other three were torpedoed, the ruling rendered Section 2(b) completely impotent.
Though Arizona law enforcement must determine the immigration status of anyone they arrest for other reasons (if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that the person is here unlawfully), the police can’t do anything – even if that person is here illegally.
Moreover, the majority ruling made it very clear that, if Section 2(b) were to be implemented so that individuals were detained for any additional length of time because of their unlawful immigration status, it would be unconstitutional.
The majority opinion made very clear that states such as Arizona have no authority to “[hold] aliens in custody for possible unlawful presence without federal direction and supervision.”
The only thing Arizona police can do is inform federal authorities that an individual is in the country unlawfully – and the feds have absolute discretion over what to do about it.
These two are legal victories for Obama (as they would be for any sitting President), but there’s also a significant political victory found here:
Because Section 2(b) was upheld, many of the law’s supporters believe the ruling to be a victory (even though, as explained earlier, it isn’t).
Because many believe it to be a victory, the law’s supporters don’t understand just how bad the ruling was for their cause, and the ruling will fail to be the rallying cry to their cause that such a defeat should have been.
And this is the huge political victory for Obama; the Court gave his policies a big boost, but nullified the potential political backlash from the ruling.