The Obama administration is on a perilous path that may lead to political death. The Supreme Court is showing its hand, just as in the health care debate, revealing a strong amount of skepticism to the administration’s legal claims against Arizona’s illegal immigration policies. (Note: as far back as May 2010, a panel of San Diego law professors argued that the state law is likely to hold up in the Court).
The chief reasoning behind the Obama administration’s claim is that Arizona state law works against the federal government’s role in making immigration policy at the national level (which is laughable considering there is no such policy). This claim prompted a rather blunt remark from Chief Justice Roberts, “It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally.”
Moreover, as the Washington Times reported, even Democrat appointed justices found the Obama administration’s position, a weak one.
“I’m terribly confused by your answer,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who went on to say that the federal government can always decline to pick up illegal immigrants when Arizona officials call.
The most important part of Arizona’s state law which the Supreme Court seems inclined to allow is the ability for state authorities to check for immigration status for those that are suspected to be in the country illegally.
From the Scotus Blog
Most of the time was spent on the provisions permitting the state to inquire about immigration status. Those provisions are likely to be upheld because the federal government can always decline to enforce immigration laws even if they learn about someone with a legal staff. [sic] The court may be unanimous on that question.
So what to make of all of this? Can the average American follow this debate without a legal background? Sure. We only need to examine the Tenth Amendment and legal state powers invested in each state government.
A state has legal police powers within its borders that do far more than just authorize police departments. They include all laws designed to promote public order and secure the safety of its citizens. This clause is canonized in the Tenth Amendment reference to "all powers not delegated to the federal government." States can do anything that is not explicitly prohibited by the Constitution or goes against direct federal policy. Being that Arizona is only enforcing the very immigration laws that the federal government has acquiesced, the state government is acting well within their powers to secure their borders and provide proper security and welfare to the taxpaying citizens of the state.
Everyday, states apply police powers on matters such as limiting availability to pornographic material, child vaccinations, and prostitution. Because of this, states enact far-reaching laws and almost always have far more detailed state constitutions than the federal Constitution. That is the genius of state sovereignty and dual federalism. The federal government tends to policy on a national level that benefits a large republic, while states in cooperation with local governments tend to policy that best benefits that state’s own unique circumstances.