WASHINGTON -- "Misguided and irresponsible" is how Arizona's new law pertaining to illegal immigration is characterized by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She represents San Francisco, which calls itself a "sanctuary city," an exercise in exhibitionism that means it will be essentially uncooperative regarding enforcement of immigration laws. Yet as many states go to court to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate to buy health insurance, scandalized liberals invoke 19th-century specters of "nullification" and "interposition," anarchy and disunion. Strange.
It is passing strange for federal officials, including the president, to accuse Arizona of irresponsibility while the federal government is refusing to fulfill its responsibility to control the nation's borders. Such control is an essential attribute of national sovereignty. America is the only developed nation that has a 2,000-mile border with a developing nation, and the government's refusal to control that border is why there are an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona and why the nation, sensibly insisting on first things first, resists "comprehensive" immigration reform.
Arizona's law makes what is already a federal offense -- being in the country illegally -- a state offense. Some critics seem not to understand Arizona's right to assert concurrent jurisdiction. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund attacks Gov. Jan Brewer's character and motives, saying she "caved to the radical fringe." This poses a semantic puzzle: Can the large majority of Arizonans who support the law be a "fringe" of their state?
Popularity makes no law invulnerable to invalidation. Americans accept judicial supervision of their democracy -- judicial review of popular but possibly unconstitutional statutes -- because they know that if the Constitution is truly to constitute the nation, it must trump some majority preferences. The Constitution, the Supreme Court has said, puts certain things "beyond the reach of majorities."