In the court’s 5-3 ruling on Arizona’s SB1070 legislation (Justice Kagan recused herself), the justices found that Arizona may not force immigrants to carry immigration papers, nor may the state make it crime for illegal immigrants to work or allow police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant. However, they upheld a provision permitting police to check immigration status of anyone they stop for other infractions if they suspect they are here illegally. In fact, though, the ruling on this provision was more of a “non-ruling” since the court said it was premature to determine its constitutionality since state courts have yet to rule on it and since it has not yet been applied in Arizona. The door is still open for it to be challenged in the future. From a practical stand point, police officers on the ground in Arizona are put in an untenable situation. If they don’t ask people for immigration status they may be breaking the law, but if they do, they can potentially be accused of racial profiling and violating civil rights (even though the statute prohibits racial profiling). The bottom line is that police will likely apply the authority in more serious crimes and with an eye to giving them another tool they can use when dealing with violent criminals.
On healthcare, Republicans were stunned when Chief Justice Roberts voted with the 5-4 majority to uphold the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act. He did not cite the commerce clause as the rationale; instead he noted the Congress’ ability to levy a tax as the argument. This provides the GOP an anti-tax stick to use against the Democrats in the fall.
The lesson here is that the court rules on constitutionality and precedent, not on the merit of the policy. Lawmakers and policy-makers have to deal with the consequences of what they do.
On SB-1070, Democrats will argue that the court struck down most the legislation and call it a win. Republicans will argue that it reinforced the state’s right to protect its citizens and that it highlighted Washington’s lack of leadership. The ruling along with President Obama’s recent executive order on “Dreamers” will hopefully spur Congress to actually take up immigration reform in a serious way in the next session.
On healthcare, everyone agrees that our health delivery system needs reform but Republicans believe it should be focused on controlling costs, increasing access and improving outcomes. Obamacare remains generally unpopular (although certain provisions do garner widespread support) and many believe it is bad policy and will hurt job growth. This is the position Republicans will take going into the election. But for Romney to use the repeal of Obamacare in the election, he will need to develop his own specific proposals for healthcare reform that the public can get behind. Democrats will say that it vindicates their approach to healthcare reform and that it will cover 30+ million people currently uninsured.
On balance, both sides will spin the Supreme Court’s rulings in their favor. Control of Congress, the Senate and the White House will dictate which direction policy will go and it will be up to the voters to decide.
Danny Vargas, President of marketing consulting firm VARCom Solutions. Former Commissioner, National Museum of the American Latino Commission, Former National Chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, regular MSNBC contributor, U.S. Air Force veteran raised in NYC.