Russell Pearce

Imagine if the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in Affordable Care Act tomorrow, but for some reason found that minor provisions such as the tax on tanning salons or the requirement that chain restaurants display caloric content unconstitutional. There is no doubt that President Obama would consider the decisions a resounding victory for his bill. After all, the crux of the debate over the healthcare bill was the individual mandate. If a few provisions of the 2,000 page bill were overturned, no one would deny that the decision favored the Obama administration.

Yet when the Supreme Court upheld the centerpiece of Arizona’s SB 1070 in Arizona v. U.S., but overturned some minor provisions, President Obama, his allies, and even some conservatives think that decision was a blow against Arizona.

The biggest misconception is that the court overturned most of the bill. According to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, “The Supreme Court was right to strike down the vast majority of the Arizona law. With three out of the four provisions being struck down, the ruling shows that the Obama administration was right to challenge this law.”

In fairness to Sen. Reid, it’s not just liberals making this mistake. Fox News reported that the Supreme Court “Struck down the Arizona law with the exception of one provision”.

These statements ignore that the most of the law was not even challenged at the Supreme Court. Although they struck down three of the four sections that were appealed to the Supreme Court, SB 1070 has 12 sections. The law banned sanctuary cities, strengthened enforcement against employers of illegal immigrants, and cracked down on human smugglers and illegal alien gang members. None of these measures were blocked at the district and appellate level, and the Supreme Court’s ruling does not change this.

Of course, from the very beginning, the most important and controversial aspect of SB 1070 was section 2(b) which requires local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of an individuals who they reasonably suspect to be here illegally that they lawfully encounter.

When I wrote and introduced SB 1070, I knew that this provision would be the teeth of SB 1070. I had heard too many stories of Americans who had been victims of violent crime by illegal immigrants who had previously been stopped by police, only to be set back loose on the streets.

In his criticizing of this bill, President Obama focused almost all his opposition towards this section. Obama famously suggested that old women taking their grandkids for ice cream will be forced to show their papers.

It is not just opponents of immigration enforcement who mistakenly claim that the bill is a defeat. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, who has long been one of the champions of immigration control in congress issued a press release stating that the “ruling essentially puts an end to immigration enforcement since the states no longer can step in and fill the void created by the Obama administration.”

While I usually agree with Rep. Smith, he far off the mark here. Even if they had overturned the entire bill, last year the Court upheld the Legal Arizona Workers Act, which I also introduced, that mandated E-Verify in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting. Without the threat of litigation, state legislators across the country will introduce laws that incorporate the Legal Arizona Workers Act and Section 2(b) and other parts of SB 1070 that have been found constitutional.

While I would have preferred for the Supreme Court to uphold all of SB 1070, their ruling on Monday was a resounding win for the state of Arizona and all Americans who support a state’s right to fight illegal immigration.


Russell Pearce

Russell Pearce served as President of the Arizona State Senate where he authored SB 1070. He is currently president of Ban Amnesty Now.