ARIZONA—It’s been 30 years and I still miss the classroom. I taught American Political Theory to mostly seniors, Pre-Law or Political Science majors, that long ago. If any of them had submitted a paper as ill-thought-out as Judge Susan Bolton’s decision on the Arizona immigration law, I’d have given them an F and made them rewrite it from scratch.
The largest point is that this US District Judge ignored the very case that was presented to her for decision. The federal complaint attacked the Arizona law for only one general flaw. It claimed that the state law preempted federal law, and was therefore unconstitutional. It is grossly improper for any judge in any case to go outside the pleadings and decide the case on different grounds, and even worse, on non-existent evidence, than was presented in the courtroom.
I’ve seen this sort of behavior at this level, just once before in 40 years at the bar. I had a case in federal court in D.C. asking Judge Stanley Sporkin to enforce the 27th Amendment. That was called the Madison Amendment because James Madison wrote it as part of the Bill of Rights in 1789. But it was not declared ratified by Congress until 1992.
Judge Sporkin did not want to enforce the Amendment against the current Congress. His way of avoiding that was a rambling discourse on congressional corruption, which he had witnessed as an intern 30 years before. In his decision, he wrote that he saw Members of Congress accept cash in plain brown envelopes.
There were three fatal problems with his decision. The pleadings said nothing about corruption in Congress. No one presented any evidence on that subject. Lastly, what any judge pulls out of his/her personal memory is not evidence presented in court and subject to cross examination.
The Court of Appeals did not deal with Judge Sporkin’s non-judicial decision openly, by throwing it out. It tap-danced around his errors by ignoring his opinion and writing a brand-new decision on different grounds. In the case of Judge Bolton’s non-judicial decision, not even that mild corrective is likely from the Court of Appeals.
This case goes next to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Not only is that the most reversed Circuit of all, it is reversed more often than all the other Appeals Courts taken together. So, it is likely the next decision on the Arizona law will be just as bad as the first one. The final word, however, will be in the US Supreme Court, where one can hope that five Justices will take the Constitution seriously.
Here are the provisions Judge Bolton said were preempted by federal law: to determine the immigration status of someone already lawfully stopped, if there is reasonable suspicion they are illegal. (This is identical to federal law.) To make it a crime not to carry alien registration papers. (Also, identical to federal law.) To make it a crime for illegal aliens to work in Arizona. (It is already illegal for illegals to work anywhere in the US, including Arizona.) To authorize the arrest of anyone where there is probable cause to believe they have committed a deportable offense. (Again, identical to federal law.)
The court then analyzes the Arizona law, point by point. Anyone arrested, or legally detained, under the state law “shall be presumed NOT to be an illegal alien,” if they have valid state, tribal, or federal ID papers with them. The court then ignores the language of the law, and reads it to mean that everyone’s status must be checked. Then the court determines that this false reading would overburden the status-checking offices of the federal government.
The court does not note the irony in the federal argument that even legitimate requests for alien identification would “overburden” federal officials. To note the irony would prevent the court from ruling against a state law, because the federal government is incompetent at its chosen tasks.
The court never deals with the point that state and local authorities do have the authority to enforce federal immigration determinations, as long as they do not exceed the requirements of federal law. Several federal decisions around the country approve of precisely this result.
The court then offers, as proof of the preemption of state law, that the federal government has been extremely lax in enforcement of laws against employment of illegals, and the use of false documents by illegals. The idea that federal incompetence requires all state and local governments to match its incompetence, has no support in prior cases.