In a Police State, Everyone Loses: The Supreme Court’s Ruling in Arizona v. United States Endangers Us All
by John W. Whitehead
If you’re dark-haired, brown-skinned and have the misfortune of living in Arizona in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in State of Arizona v. United States of America, get ready to be stopped, searched and questioned. Then again, if you’re a citizen living in the United States, this is merely one more component of the police state that appears to be descending upon us.
Thanks to a muddled decision handed down by the Supreme Court on June 25, Arizona police officers now have broad authority to stop, search and question individuals – citizen and non-citizen alike. While the law prohibits officers from considering race, color, or national origin, it amounts to little more than a perfunctory nod to discrimination laws on the books, while paving the way for outright racial profiling.
In Arizona v. United States, one of this term’s most controversial cases, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether federal law trumps Arizona’s immigration law, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070). A divided Court struck down as unconstitutional key provisions pertaining to the criminalizing of illegal immigrants (for not possessing their federal registration cards while working, applying for work or soliciting work) and warrantless arrests by police, declaring that “the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” At the same time, the Court unanimously affirmed the Arizona law’s “show me your papers” provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop for any reason.
It’s a mixed bag of a ruling that is being hailed as a victory by spin doctors at all ends of the political spectrum. President Obama, whose administration challenged the Arizona statute as attempting to preempt federal law, hailed the ruling as a clear referendum on the fact that “Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.” Meanwhile, Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor and a major player in the immigration wars, claimed the ruling as “a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens. After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”
Yet no amount of spin can detract from the fact that this ruling does little to recognize or counteract the real danger inherent in S.B. 1070, which is the erection of a prototype police state in Arizona. By allowing Arizona police to stop and search people, citizens and immigrants alike, based only on their own subjective suspicions and visual observations, and by failing to address the core issue being debated here – namely, whether Americans have any Fourth Amendment protections anymore – the Court has opened the door to a host of abuses, the least of which will be racial profiling. Without fail, we will be revisiting this issue again, especially in light of the fact that Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have adopted similar laws.