As I read Monday’s Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and the various analyses that followed it in preparation for a press conference, I was suddenly struck by how much I missed my former career as a civil rights lawyer.
Here in print was proof of the role lawyers, Congress and the courts play in protecting democracy and rejecting extremism. That led me to think about the important role that some foundations played in supporting the advocacy and the litigation against the Arizona law and its copycats around the country.
And yet, I also thought about the fact that most foundations continue to tread lightly in this arena, concerned that advocacy, including litigation is too political and divisive, even when it protects the constitution and civil rights.
So what did the court decide?
Somewhat unexpectedly, on Monday June 25, 2012, in a split decision, the United States Supreme Court issued its long awaited decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigration legislation, SB 1070. The Court struck down 3 of the law’s 4 provisions and upheld its most controversial provision, popularly referred to as the “show me your papers law.”
The three sections of the law that did not withstand Supreme Court review would have created a state penalty for failure to provide proof of legal residence, a state penalty for working without authorization, and would have allowed state police to arrest without a warrant a person whose offense make him deportable. Weighing on these provisions, the court essentially ruled that states may not take the law into their own hands to legislate what is a federal Congressional matter. In so doing, the Court has probably brought to a halt the proliferation of Arizona copy cat laws that have created polarization and economic upheaval in many parts of the country.
Unfortunately, the court upheld that part of the law which requires that Arizona police check the immigration status of a person they suspect may be unlawfully in the country when they detain that person on other grounds. The Court cautioned, however, that the implementation could easily give rise to constitutional violations and concerns.
No doubt this will become the new battleground in Arizona, and another opportunity for philanthropy to rollup its sleeves and join the constitutional debate. And it should because as different laws are enacted and legally challenged, what is undisputed is that many immigrant families are here permanently and contributing socially and economically on a daily basis.
Rather than pursue punitive measures, our best hope for the future is to reach out and incorporate the new Americans as this country has done many times over in the past.
Thanks for reading,
Maria Blanco is the vice president of civic engagement at the California Community Foundation.