Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mischaracterizing The Checks and Balances In Our Constitutions Framework: Justice Scalia's Dissent in Arizona v. USA

As promised I have had a chance to read, reread and digest the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona v. United States where a majority of the Supreme Court ruled Arizona's controversial Immigration law a\k\a SB1070 as unconstitutional.

You can read the original decision or get the cliff notes here

What most caught my attention however was not the majority decision which I think is about as correct an interpretation as one could give here, but the very political dissent by Justice Scalia.

Now many of you know how much I am a fan of Antonin Scalia. We might not be from the same political theory family (Original/intentionalist v. Original/textualist see a further discussion here but we are certainly kissin cousins.

With that said, I also have to say that while I understand his frustration, (it has to be hard being so close to having a majority on every issue and preempting the other two branches of government with a ruling) He has allowed his frustration to overcome his understanding of the checks and balances within the Constitution.

Look, in the original Constitution, The Founders contemplated a bunch of things that could be done for one branch to veto the other two branches. The Congress passes a law, the President vetoes it. Congress can override the veto, if they do, the Supreme Court might decide that the law is Constitutional or it is not Constitutional. Ok so we have a law than the Congress wants the President doesn't and the SCOTUS says the law passes Constitution muster. Now what options does the Constitution leave the President? Well enforcement of law is left to.... THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH (ie the President). He can choose to enforce that law or not or do it the way he sees fit. Now Congress has another option. It can impeach the President for NOT Enforcing the law, The Supreme Court Chief Justice presides over a trial in the Senate and if he loses the Senate vote, he is gone.

Now Scalia's problem here seems to be, he really doesn't like the way the President has chosen to act on the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act (lets remember what Scalia is angry about is the President's decision (through the Dept. Of Homeland Security) not to deport students who came to the United States as children because their parents didn't abandon them when they came to the US to find a better life) by not forcing these children to leave the only country they really know so that they can go back to a culture where they very well know no one and may not even know the language.

(In fact opponents of immigration reform like Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (a well known hate group with ties to the KKK and other Xenophobic entities)want to send children BORN IN AMERICA to undocumented aliens out of their (our)country)

In his frustration, he lashes out politically at the President in his dissent stating:
...U. S. immigration officials have been directed to “defe[r] action” against such individual “for a period of two years, subject to renewal.”6 The husbanding of scarce enforcement resources can hardly be the justification for this, since the considerable administrative cost of conducting as many as 1.4 million background checks, and ruling on the biennial requests for dispensation that the non enforcement program envisions, will necessarily be deducted from immigration enforcement. The President said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administration’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act.7 Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.
The Court opinion’s looming specter of inutterable horror—“[i]f §3 of the Arizona statute were valid, every State could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations,” ante, at 10—seems to me not so horrible and even less looming. But there has come to pass, and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the States that support it predicted: A Federal Government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the States’ borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude. So the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive's refusal to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws?

In fact the Constitution does not allow the states to enforce Federal laws that the President decides he will not enforce. If it did, it would give every state Governor and legislature a separate check on the President and on Congress as well.
Would Scalia say the same thing if the states were disagreeing with the court? In fact after Brown v. Board of Education, many states continued to say they didn't have to follow Supreme Court "law" and had the Presidents at that time decided not to send Marshals and troops to enforce the decision there would have been nothing the court could have done.

Scalia's comments are thus a political attack against POTUS's decision to get some of the rights the Dream act would have granted. It isn't the court's place to rule politically. I have no problem with much of his dissent (though I would not have joined in it as I think it twists to a great degree the law on federal preemption in Immigration enforcement) but I feel he has allowed his dissents to fall into the fanaticism that encompasses most of today's political debate. By suggesting the President was not within his right to set Executive priorities and that states can act on their own, is just not the law, it is not forwarding understanding the checks and balances of our Constitution and frankly it is beneath Justice Scalia's ability as a SCOTUS Justice.
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