Court Immigration Ruling Gives Obama a Partial But Real Win

President Obama and his re-election team must have celebrated this morning when the Supreme Court threw out most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, by a 5-3 majority, with only conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissenting.

(Justice Elena Kagan didn’t participate because she had helped bring the case Arizona v. United States as President Obama’s solicitor general.)

Some conservatives, including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, claimed victory when the Court upheld 8-0 the most hotly disputed part of the law– that state police could ask people about their immigration status if they stopped them for other reasons, and then turn over suspected illegals to the federal government. But that narrow sliver of the law may not stand up to future court challenges.

What’s gone now are provisions that, as Reuters reported, “required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police arrest of immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared, “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” He called the federal government’s power to make immigration policy “well settled,” leaving the ball squarely in the feds’ court whether they do their jobs or not.

Current US Supreme Court justices in 2010. Photo: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, via Wikimedia Commons.

That suited President Obama just fine. “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,” he said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney responded that the president had “failed to provide any leadership on immigration.”

Yes, Hispanics hate the “show your papers” clause the Court upheld, but this is a big win for the Administration, which mounted a successful legal challenge to most of the law.

Romney had painted himself into a corner by calling the Arizona law a “model” for the country. Now he’s thrown in his lot with the losing side. “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”—exactly the opposite of what the Court ruled.

In the GOP primaries, Romney sided with the party’s most anti-immigrant forces, and now he’s stuck with them.

This legal victory and the president’s preemptive new immigration policy should cement his runaway lead among Hispanic voters. The challenge for his re-election team is to get them enthusiastic enough to vote, and the events over the last few weeks took a big step towards that.

As for Romney, unless the economy tanks, winning a big slice of the Hispanic vote looks like a lost cause. Live by the Tea Party, die by the Tea Party.



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