You had to know the U.S. Supreme Court would save the health care ruling for its June encore.
So while we policy wonks hold our Bic lighters (or smartphones) aloft, waiting for Thursday’s news, let’s reflect on an already newsy week for the Supremes. News that came on two fronts, and largely at the expense of the states.
• Monday court’s ruling on the Arizona immigration law, while cluttered, managed to deliver a cogent message. On immigration, the states must defer to the federal government.
The Supreme Court let stand the worst of the Arizona law: the “show me your papers” section. This clause requires police officers to check immigration status, if they suspect they have stopped or arrested someone who is in the country illegally. But this clause is surviving on a wing and a prayer, with the high court’s wink and nod. It would be inappropriate for the Supreme Court to weigh in on this section, said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of the majority, “without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts.”
That’s not an endorsement. And the Supreme Court cast aside other key pieces of this law.
To their collective credit, Idaho lawmakers have generally steered clear of the immigration issue. They certainly haven’t followed their Arizona colleagues down the path of pandering and profiling. That all looks better, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
This ruling must have been frustrating to many Arizonans, and I get that.
On the one hand, Kennedy writes about signs along an interstate highway just 30 miles south of Phoenix, cautioning motorists not to travel in an “active drug and human smuggling area.” Writes Kennedy, as if in deadpan, “The problems posed to the State by illegal immigration must not be underestimated.”
Yet Kennedy, and the court’s majority, said Arizona must wait for a solution from a federal government that has proven unable or unwilling to pass comprehensive immigration law.
Dysfunctional? Absolutely. But it doesn’t change the fact that states cannot write 50 versions of immigration law — and that Arizona’s law was a particularly poorly crafted piece of legislation.
• Also on Monday, the court exerted its primacy over campaign finance law, saying its controversial Citizens United ruling, and the new political Wild West of unlimited independent campaign spending, trumps a 100-year-old Montana law banning corporate contributions.
The ruling wasn’t just a setback for Montana; 22 attorneys general, including Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, supported the challenge to Citizens United.
Makes sense. After all, this isn’t immigration — a national security and border control issue where the federal government should take charge. I don’t think it should matter to anyone in Mississippi how a state Senate campaign in Montana is bankrolled.
But now that a Supreme Court majority has tersely ruled that “there can be no serious doubt” that Citizens United is the law in Montana, what becomes of Idaho campaign finance laws?
Perhaps nothing. Idaho never placed limits on independent contributions, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said Wednesday. And limits on contributions — $1,000 in legislative elections and $5,000 in statewide elections — apply equally to corporations and individuals.
Wasden filed on Montana’s behalf, in order to protect the Legislature’s ability to restrict contributions, if it so chose.
As the Supreme Court made abundantly clear Monday, that is now a moot point.