On the angry end of the political spectrum, secession is in the air and a narrow reading of the US Constitution — with severely limited powers for the federal government — is all the rage. But the Constitution is interpreted by federal courts (according to the Constitution), and an Arizona federal judge has delivered a blow to tenthers who believe that the federal government should be allowed to do very little.
In rejecting key parts of the Arizona immigration law, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton agreed with the Obama administration’s views on “pre-emption,” a belief that states cannot usurp important federal powers.
From the WSJ:
A judge’s ruling blocking major portions of Arizona’s immigration law strengthened the Obama administration’s hand in a battle over states rights that appears destined for the Supreme Court.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix sided with the Justice Department on the most important federal arguments accusing the state of crossing a constitutional line with a law aimed at curbing illegal immigration.
Several other states are considering similar laws, amid broad anti-immigration sentiment, and the ruling likely will contribute to deterring some of them. Underscoring the political implications of the legal fight, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer used her gubernatorial-campaign website to vow an appeal of the ruling, and the Republican Governors Association sent out a fund-raising letter from Ms. Brewer seeking donations. . .
Federal courts have given the federal government wide latitude over immigration laws, dating to 1880s laws aimed at limiting Chinese migrants. But in recent decades, courts have also allowed state laws that rely on federal law for their force.
Jonathan Benner of Reed Smith LLP said the judge’s ruling was “surgical” in carving out areas where he believed the state clearly crossed the line. “She’s dealing with an area that’s suffused with federal authority,” he said.
An analysis in the NYT agrees that the ruling will likely deter other states from adopting a harsh law similar to Arizona’s:
Although Judge Bolton’s ruling is not final, it seems likely to halt, at least temporarily, an expanding movement by states to combat illegal immigration by making it a state crime to be an immigrant without legal documents and by imposing new requirements on state and local police officers to enforce immigration law.
“This is a warning to any other jurisdiction” considering a similar law, said Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund , which brought a separate suit against the law that is also before Judge Bolton.
I doubt if the ruling will serve to deter many states from similar laws. There may be a few governors and state legislatures who have the good sense — in these times of gaping state budget deficits — to refrain from engaging in expensive lawsuits they are unlikely to win. But most will not.
After all, governors and legislatures are endorsing such laws strictly for political reasons — to appease a nativist constituency that is angry over immigration. That backlash won’t be halted by common sense.