Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday at the Court

The big decision apparently waits until Thursday, but the Supreme Court did hand down three rulings today. They have decided that the 8th Amendment precludes giving juveniles life in prison without the possibility of parole. They also decided not to take up Montana's challenge to Citizens United. And finally, they performed surgery on the Arizona immigration law SB 1070.

I don't have a lot to say about the 8th Amendment case. While there are certainly a lot of young people who commit heinous crimes, it's quite possible to share the view that committing a young person to a lifetime in prison isn't the best course of action. The underlying case happened in Arkansas, in which a 14-year old was part of an armed robbery in which a store clerk was murdered during the robbery. The plaintiff in the case before the Court was not the shooter, however, but because he was part of the crime he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. You can argue it either way but there's still a presumption that there is a purpose in trying to rehabilitate prisoners. The young man in question, Kuntrell Jackson, is now 26. Perhaps he'll get a second chance with his life; if he does, I certainly hope he makes  better choices as an adult than he did as a 14-year old.

The second case concerned a state challenge to the Citizens United ruling, a bete noire for the Left. The state of Montana sought to defend a law passed in 1912 that limited corporate spending on campaigns, contravening the ruling in Citizens. The matter came back to the court and went down with the same 5-4 margin that Citizens United had. In other words, not much changed. I would fully expect that there will be additional challenges to the ruling in the future, especially if the composition of the Court changes in the next few years. The logic behind Citizens United remains the same as it has always been -- money is a form of political speech and the 1st Amendment has a very high bar for limiting the amount of political speech any entity can have. The Left hates the ruling because it takes away what had long been a competitive advantage that the Left held.

As an aside, I'm amused by the notion that the Left is uniformly against corporate interests speaking out on political matters. I haven't heard a lot of complaints about General Mills lately, to use just one example, and media corporations that aren't called Fox typically get a pass, too. Funny how that works. The issue in Citizens has never been about the mechanism of speech, but rather the content of the speech. If the Left really wants to defeat the corporations who might speak against what the Left holds dear, I'd suggest that the Left get in the habit of making more persuasive arguments instead of trying to muffle its opponents.

The biggest one of the day concerned the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070. Three of the four provisions of the law were struck down. John Hayward of Human Events explains how the Court decided the matter:

Struck down were Arizona's requirement for aliens to carry registration papers, the law's application of criminal penalties for employing illegal aliens, and the authorization of warrantless arrests for deportable crimes.

However, Arizona's requirement for police officers to make reasonable efforts to determine the immigration status of people detained for other infractions was upheld. 

The ruling is tricky, because the situation is a difficult one. I don't think there's much dispute that immigration is a federal matter, not a state issue, but in a place like Arizona the burden is much greater. The sad truth is that there's something approaching a civil war going on in northern Mexico right now and a lot of the violence has spilled over into Arizona. In some respects, SB 1070 was a much a cry for help as anything else. As things stand, the Obama administration has little interest in enforcing the immigration laws as they are currently written and the president has essentially implemented the DREAM Act by fiat.

Should he able to do that? Probably not, but Obama's action was not what was under review in the case. For his part, Justice Scalia let fly with a blistering dissent and brought up the current situation as a key factor:

Besides expressing unhappiness with the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement policies, Justice Scalia contended that the framers of the Constitution understood that the states had sovereign power over immigration.  He stated sarcastically that “[i]f securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.”
As usual, Scalia has a point. However, hard cases make bad law, as the old saying goes. And if we are going to have a uniform immigration policy, it needs to come from the federal government. The proper remedy for dealing with the Obama administration's actions is to vote it out of office. And it's worth remembering that Arizona can still enforce its statutes concerning crimes that are committed within its borders. That's been happening all along and will continue, although the Justice Department has been trying to throw spanners in the works.

The larger issue of immigration and the implications of the DREAM Act are well beyond the scope of today's ruling. We do need to resolve these issues, but that's not going to happen in this election cycle.


Brian said...

My main issue with the AZ bill was it created (state) criminal offenses out of (federal) civil infractions. I think the court ruled correctly there.

I wouldn't have (much of) a problem with the mandate on LEOs to check immigration status of people they are detaining if it weren't for the fact that 1) cops can (and do) manufacture excuses to pull people over and detain them, 2) the Court has not seen fit to do anything about that, 3) "reasonable suspicion" is not a clear standard, 4) the behavior of cops in AZ, and of the Maricopa SD in particular, pretty clearly indicates that the question is not whether this provision will be abused, but how often and to what consequence? (My guess: a lot, and not much.)

Scalia is an ass. We didn't have anything resembling a formalized immigration system until the 20th century.

Mr. D said...

We didn't have anything resembling a formalized immigration system until the 20th century.

True, but that's not really his point. There is a larger question involved, which is whether a state has any jurisdiction or can the federal government preempt that.

I take your point about cops, although in this case it's highly unlikely that cops will bother with enforcement since it's clear the feds aren't going to bother with enforcing the rules, at least through the end of this year. We won't really know if this law is abusive until and unless the feds decide to actually enforce the laws that are on the books.