Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Joe Carr Might Want to Reread That Supreme Court Decision About Arizona

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 11:10 AM

State Rep. Joe Carr, according to the TNReport, is very excited about the recent Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration laws:

Since it is clear now that the Supreme Court believes state and local police can make inquiries into a person’s immigration status as a matter of routine, then Tennessee ought to consider “expanding the authority of law enforcement” to enable that here, said Carr.

“What we want is a coherent, cohesive strategy for the problem Tennessee has that the federal government refused to address,” said Carr. “We really have done a good job… We want to make sure that there isn’t something left for us to do.”

Well ... not exactly. What the Supreme Court said was that it wasn't clear on its face that it violated federal laws. In other words, the law is going to have to go into effect and some arrests are going to have to play out and lawsuits will have to be filed before the Court is going to rule whether the law is constitutional. That's different than saying that the Court believes state and local police can routinely check immigration statuses when they arrest people.

This is a minor but important distinction, because it indicates that people who believe that this should be law in Tennessee and possibly throughout the land might want to hold off for a second.

Allow me to explain. The Supreme Court decides cases (usually) on precedent. That means it looks at a bunch of settled case law and tries to figure out which cases that have already been decided are similar to the case before it. Then the court makes a decision based on the decisions that have come before.

So the Supreme Court has basically said to Arizona that this part of the law, in theory, seems fine — but if it turns out to be a giant racist civil-rights-law-violating clusterfuck in practice, the court will take another look at it.

Now, if you're a supporter of this law, you obviously don't want a bunch of cases to go before lower courts and be ruled to be giant civil-rights-law-violating clusterfucks, because that establishes precedent — i.e., when programs authorized under these laws are challenged in court, they are found to be problematic for these reasons. Because then, when the Supreme Court sees a case that finally makes it up that high and it looks around to see what other courts have ruled, it finds ruling after ruling that says these programs violate federal law.

Obviously, what you want instead is either for the programs never to be challenged in court, or for the court rulings to weigh heavily on the side of the programs being implemented in a way that doesn't violate federal law. That way, if a challenge ever does reach the Supreme Court, precedent comes down favorably on the constitutionality of these laws and programs.

So here's the question you have to ask yourself as a proponent of these laws: Do you trust the people who will implement them to do so fairly? If you have any doubt at all, you should hold off. Let Arizona be the proving ground and show that it works.

Otherwise, if you all rush to implement similar laws and it turns out you couldn't trust your folks to do it fairly? The Supreme Court has been very clear that it has left the door wide open to revisit this issue and strike it down. And that might make your allies very unhappy with you.

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