Monday, June 14, 2010

Certifiable

The man who brought you Arizona’s immigration law would like to take the next step.

Buoyed by recent public opinion polls suggesting they’re on the right track with illegal immigration, Arizona Republicans will likely introduce legislation this fall that would deny birth certificates to children born in Arizona — and thus American citizens according to the U.S. Constitution — to parents who are not legal U.S. citizens. The law largely is the brainchild of state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican whose suburban district, Mesa, is considered the conservative bastion of the Phoenix political scene. He is a leading architect of the Arizona law that sparked outrage throughout the country: Senate Bill 1070, which allows law enforcement officers to ask about someone’s immigration status during a traffic stop, detainment or arrest if reasonable suspicion exists — things like poor English skills, acting nervous or avoiding eye contact during a traffic stop.

Such a law would clearly violate the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, but that’s not a problem for Mr. Pearce, who sees that pesky amendment as being “hijacked” by “illegal immigrants.”

Pearce says he is aware of the constitutional issues involved with the bill and vows to introduce it nevertheless. “We will write it right.” He and other Republicans in the red state Arizona point to popular sympathy: 58% of Americans polled by Rasmussen think illegal immigrants whose children are born here should not receive citizenship; support for that stance is 76% among Republicans.

I’m not buying the argument that just because a law has popular support makes it right. As Bill Maher noted, that’s argumentum ad numerum (or ad populum): “That’s like saying ‘Eat shit: 20 trillion flies can’t be wrong.'” Rights such as citizenship and equality shouldn’t be the subjects of popular whim and political manipulation. The last time we tried that we got Prohibition, and we all know how well that turned out. The only beneficiaries from that were organized crime and the careers of Edward G. Robinson and Robert Stack.

Aside from the fact that there is no right way to write a bad law, count on it being challenged in the courts, and it since it involves the Constitution, it would probably make it all the way to the Supreme Court. Given the make-up of the current court, however, I’ll give it a 50-50 shot of being tossed out; I am sure that at least two of the members of the Court who were direct beneficiaries of the amendment will find some way to pull up the ladder behind them and make the case that just because the Constitution grants citizenship and equal rights to all, it doesn’t really apply to everyone.