Arizona S.B. 1070 Decision Analysis: Minimal Impact on Election 2012, But Mitt Romney In Trouble With Latino Voters

The United States Supreme Court recently issued its decision for Arizona v. United States, one of the most high-profile cases of the year whose associated drama is surpassed perhaps only by the forthcoming Obamacare decision. At issue was the constitutionality of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which greatly expands state powers related to immigration enforcement. The SCOTUS ruled against Arizona on three of the four relevant provisions but cautiously upheld the most controversial Section 2(B), the so-called “show me your papers” provision many critics condemn as institutionalized racial profiling. The Court reasoned that the policy had yet to be implemented and is therefore presently permissible, although future challenges are highly likely if and when racial profiling occurs.

On Monday, I indicated that President Barack Obama’s recent immigration policy shift heightened the stakes surrounding the SCOTUS decision. Back in April, I postulated possible effects of the SCOTUS ruling in three key areas: Arizona, other states, and in the 2012 presidential election. With the decision released, many of my preliminary predictions proved correct.

1) Effects on Arizona: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is the most central public figure in the debate, aside from the President himself. In my April article, I cited an MSNBC report, which stated: “Brewer’s reputation – and perhaps even her political future – are at stake” in the battle over S.B. 1070. Although the law partially survived high court scrutiny, Brewer is facing an uphill battle framing how her signature state legislation can survive in the long run, which seems unlikely considering the decision is widely considered a defeat for Arizona. But that didn’t stop Brewer from initially declaring victory following the SCOTUS decision, although she has since railed against the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to revoke its 287(g) agreements with the state that underpin federal/state immigration partnerships. The tonal shift is subtle, but it indicates through her opprobrium the supremacy of the federal government in enforcing immigration – which of course was said in more words in Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

Interestingly, in a portentous sign for Brewer, her approval rating in Arizona is 43% compared to 48% disapproval. President Obama, meanwhile, has a slight lead over Brewer with a 45% approval rating in the state.

Arizona itself has faced significant challenges since the passage of S.B. 1070. Although its supporters are quick to highlight its alleged crime-lowering effect, other developments undermine the law’s overall utility. A tourism boycott has already cost the state $141 million, although there has been an uptick in occupancy since the boycott was lifted, and economic sanctions passed by various local governments, including Los Angeles, have limited contracts with businesses based in Arizona. How the high court’s decision will impact the general economic climate in the state remains to be seen.

2) Effects on Other States: A June 25 CNN article “Analysis: Five things we learned from the Supreme Court’s immigration ruling” said it best: Other states better tread carefully. Arizona’s unprecedented law inspired copycat bills in five other historically red states: Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah. The refusal of the SCOTUS to rule on Section 2(B) means these states, as well as Arizona, can implement the policy, but it will not be an easy process. The SCOTUS has issued a definitive statement on federalism in the 21st century – a statement that will be compounded in part by the Obamacare decision on Thursday. Should these states overstep with regard to immigration or pursue the “show me your papers” policy in a manner capable of inciting challenge and eventual SCOTUS consideration, the high court will come down hard on these states for usurping federal power and possibly for unlawful racial profiling.

3) Effects on the 2012 Election: The propensity for the decision to sway voters in the 2012 presidential election is minimal, but some crucial information can be gleaned from the aftermath.

Although both sides feel vindicated, most experts agree that immigration decision is a win for Obama, albeit an incomplete one. The outstanding issue of Section 2(B) still needs to be resolved before either party can make truly definitive statements. Nevertheless, Obama is polling strongly among Latinos, crushing Romney 66%-25% in that demographic, surely bolstered by the favorable SCOTUS decision and his adroitly timed immigration policy shift.

Romney continues to flounder on immigration, seemingly incapable of articulating a specific policy, opting instead to condemn Obama’s platform and weakly push wholly abstract, hypothetical alternatives. It took the presidential hopeful days to address Obama’s policy shift and he has consistently assumed conspicuously obstinate and unpopular positions on a variety of immigration-related issues ranging from S.B. 1070 to the DREAM Act.

So, while Arizona v. United States won’t be a game changer in the 2012 election, it certainly won’t help Mitt Romney come November.