SB 1070 steals presidential election spotlight
Published: Monday, July 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 14:07
With national attention focused on the upcoming presidential election, it is difficult for anyone other than Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to win media coverage. That has changed, at least since last week, as the Supreme Court shares in some of the lime light. Before recessing for the summer, the Court handed down rulings on several important matters. The two most anticipated and controversial rulings came last Monday and Thursday, when the Supreme Court ruled on the Arizona immigration law SB 1070 and the Affordable Care Act, respectively.
The controversy over SB 1070 is a bit difficult to pinpoint because there is so much misinformation and obfuscation going around. Initially, the bill was strongly opposed because critics claimed that it amounted to legalizing racial profiling and, by extension, racism. However, when the federal government sued the state of Arizona over the bill, it was not for violating any equal-protection principles. It was, contended Attorney General Eric Holder, because the states do not have the authority to pass immigration legislation; that is a power delegated to the federal government. Since these are the grounds on which SB 1070 was sued, this is the only context on which the Supreme Court ruled.
The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the most controversial aspect of the bill: the section requiring Arizona law officials to check the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants, but only if they are being charged with another crime. The Supreme Court struck down three other major provisions of the bill having to do with the registration and documentation of immigrants. In upholding the immigration check provision, the Supreme Court was very narrow in its ruling. It stated that the provision did not violate federal authority over immigration law, but that the law may be brought back to court for any other reason, including equal-protection and racial profiling concerns.
Since it is highly likely that the state of Arizona will be sued again on grounds of racial profiling, it is worthwhile to examine whether the law actually does encourage racial profiling. Obviously, if this is the case, the law is an unprecedented violation of civil liberties.
The answer is no. There is specific language in the law that prohibits racial profiling. The law states SB 1070 is a secondary law, meaning a person would have to be stopped for a separate crime first. If someone is already being investigated for another crime, SB 1070 allows Arizona police to determine whether that person is a U.S. citizen if reasonable suspicion that they may not be exists. Even if a person is being detained, the law states explicitly that “police may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection…”
But just because the law explicitly prohibits racial profiling doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. This is a valid concern of many opponents of SB 1070. While the bill doesn’t give police permission to racially profile someone, officers may do just that. However, this is a moot point. If an individual police officer decides to take the law into his own hands and violates a citizen’s rights, that officer is outside the boundaries of the law and should be dealt with appropriately on a case by case basis. The actions of a few individuals who may act outside the parameters of the law should not be grounds on which to strip the law of its responsibility to protect citizens. SB 1070 clearly states that racial profiling is unacceptable, and as long as the law is implemented as written, no civil rights will be violated.