Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Castles In The Sand

Yesterday, we only briefly touched on the Supreme Court's decisions regarding campaign finance law and immigration. As we've often said, anything worth doing is worth doing well - which is why we took our time unraveling both decisions, which we will do for you today.

As a reminder for Thursday's Supreme Court decisions regarding both the Stolen Valor Act, and of course, the Affordable Care Act, we'll warn you in advance: These court decisions are not as easy to accurately decipher as many TV and radio pundits, and instant bloggers - from all political backgrounds - attempt to make it seem.

Regardless of the mental stability of its justices, there is a reason these difficult cases make their way to the Supreme Court. If these were easy legal decisions, the cases would never get this far.

The massive wave of problems related to immigration that was handled in the Court's decision on Monday was a perfect example of how even the best plans and previous Supreme Court rulings can be washed away like so much sand, in the face of a tsunami.

In short, the court did not - as many, many, many legitimate media outlets said - uphold any part of Arizona's SB1070. For all the bragadoccio by Arizona's Gov. Brewer on Monday the fact is, the "Papers, please" provision of the court's decision was not the heart of the law. That provision allows law enforcement officers who have "reasonable suspicion" of someone's immigration status to stop them and ask them to provide identification.

That provision may also be on thin ice. As the Court itself made clear, and as legal scholars and others have confirmed, the Court is deferring to the earlier judgement of a lower court. Since SB1070 never really took effect, there was no way for the Justices to honestly judge whether it would work in practice. For now, that provision remains - but if Arizona law enforcement officers abuse it, which is entirely possible - that provision may also end up before the Court, and is likely to be struck down as well.

All the other provisions of Arizona's attempt at making its own, separate immigration law were smacked down very hard. Arizona - or any state or U.S. territory - is not allowed to have its own immigration policy. They cannot create new criminal charges that target immigrants. They cannot detain people indefinitely, because a person might be undocumented. Finally, certain Executive Branch actions regarding the application of Federal law - like President Obama's recent actions on immigration - are completely lawful.

In short, anti-immigrant forces got their race-based political excuse for legislation washed out in a wave of previous legal rulings.

Truthfully, the Court's other major decision on Monday - regarding campaign finance reform - while handled poorly, has a similar background.

In short, the high court  decided on Monday that whether or not states like Montana have had campaign finance restriction laws on the books for a single year or a century, states cannot set their own campaign finance laws, any more than they can set their own immigration policies.

We still firmly believe a less ideologically driven court would never have made its initial decision to allow corporations and wealthy individuals to effectively outright buy our elections.

That said, the consistency between the Court's decisions on immigration and campaign finance gives the Court back another small grain of credibility and legitimacy.

Depending on the decision the Court makes on health care Thursday morning, those grains of credibility may yet yet be washed away before the week is out.

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