On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Arizona v. United States. The outcome will decide the fate of Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070, which provides state officials increased power to enforce immigration policy – a role reserved to the federal government (for a clear explanation of the law and the relevant constitutional issues, see fellow PolicyMic pundit Duncan Fulton’s recent article).
Despite its conservative inclination and without liberal Justice Elena Kagan, who recused herself last December, the Supreme Court is expected to affirm lower court decisions, both of which ruled the law unconstitutional. If the SCOTUS does in fact uphold the prior decisions, there will be profound nationwide effects.
3) Effects on Arizona: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer desperately needs a victory if her fortunes are to improve. She has willingly brought herself into the national spotlight, and not just by signing an unprecedented law that usurps power from the federal government. Her recent vocal accusations of Democrats playing petty politics in Tuesday’s Senate hearings only amplify the attention. She has also publicly staked her reputation to the law as its chief proponent. According to MSNBC, “Brewer’s reputation – and perhaps even her political future – are at stake” in the battle ahead. If her law is struck down, it will raise questions about her acumen as governor.
The state in general has already felt some effects of S.B. 1070. Many of Arizona’s Hispanics have fled to neighboring states, such as California, or even back to Mexico. Indeed, for the first time in 40 years, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than entering. Meanwhile, Arizona’s tourism industry is stronger than in recent years, news S.B. 1070’s supporters are quick to attribute to the law’s alleged crime-lowering effect. Of course, it’s difficult to pinpoint direct causes for these developments and even more difficult to credit a single law as the direct cause, but if the law is overturned and these statistics change for the worse it will provide greater data from which to draw those conclusions.
2) Effects on Other States: But Arizona will not be the only state affected by an unconstitutional S.B. 1070. Currently, five other historically red states – Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah – have passed copycat bills since Brewer signed S.B. 1070 into law on April 23, 2010. Declaring the Arizona bill unconstitutional would severely limit these and other states’ efforts at curbing immigration and invite suits against those copycat bills.
Such a decision will also clearly define federalism in the 21st century. In a period where mistrust of government is rampant, overturning the law will bolster the supremacy of the federal government and check the designs of ambitious states. Republicans have decried a strong federal government as the great problem in America, particularly after Ronald Reagan came to power in 1980, while Democrats have supported strong, effective government. The clash between states and the federal government is one of the most extended conflicts in American history and central to its narrative. It was a central debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and a fundamental underpinning of the Civil War. Of course, the battle over S.B. 1070 is not as monumental as those chapters from our past, but it will still contribute to the story.
1) Effects on the 2012 Election: The timing of the SCOTUS taking up the case does not bode well for all-but certain Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who now finds himself in a tight spot. The former Massachusetts governor has been hit hard for questionable comments already, including his promise to, if elected, veto the DREAM Act if it ever makes its way out of Congress. More specifically, Romney allegedly characterized the Arizona immigration law as a model. Considering these positions, it’s hard to see how Romney won’t be hurt in November. A SCOTUS decision upholding the unconstitutionality of the law will likely help Obama at the polls with Hispanics, whereas a decision overturning lower court decisions could galvanize them to punish Romney for supporting Brewer and S.B. 1070. Romney’s only hope then would be to latch to the GOP DREAM Act alternative currently touted by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). But Romney has already refused to support the Rubio alternative, so a pivot will widely be criticized as an opportunistic flip-flop by a candidate already infamous for circumstantially moderating his positions on key issues.