SCOTUS seems to have racist Arizona immigration law’s back

Yesterday, SB 1070 — the highly controversial Arizona law that would legalize racial profiling in the state – was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Obama administration. In the meantime, opponents and supporters mobilized outside to protest, and while supporters were outnumbered, they certainly made their stance clear:

Songs, chants and signs telling undocumented immigrants to “go back to your third-world armpit,” as well as woes of gang violence, terrorism and Obama’s birth certificate made a strong presence outside of the courthouse. In house, Chief Justice Roberts’ said to the Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. upfront:

“I just want to make clear what this law is not about…No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?”

Now it’s true that the central argument that the administration has brought to SCOTUS is not about racial profiling, but about the federal government’s authority to control immigration policies. Yet Roberts’ statement and the other conservative justices’ following remarks during the hearing almost sounded as if in harmony with the supporters outside. Adam Serwer reports: 

Although most of the justices took pains to avoid discussing the law’s actual impact on the population it targets, they were comfortable describing that population in the most unflattering terms possible. The justices—including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina—frequently referred to unauthorized immigrants as “illegal aliens” or an “illegal person.” Justice Antonin Scalia defended Arizona’s right to “defend its borders,” echoing the rhetoric of the law’s champion, now-deposed Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who refers to illegal immigration as “an invasion.” Going even further, Scalia offered an analogy in which he compared unauthorized immigrants to armed thieves, suggested that the Obama administration’s prioritizing of undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes was like saying “we may only want to go after the professional bank robbers.”

This obviously sets a really problematic tone for any future cases where racial profiling is the central argument — because amidst the racist cumbaya songs outside and justices comparing undocumented Americans to thieves, yesterday made one thing very clear: this law is absolutely about race and racial profiling, and there is no amount of denial that can be made to escape it. I second Jamil Smith’s sentiments: 

Unless Roberts has a Spidey Sense for detecting them (and expects Arizona law enforcement to share that supernatural ability), racial and ethnic profiling is precisely what the “papers, please” law is about. It literally is part of the law itself. We can talk about the problem that SB 1070 is allegedly supposed to address. But in order to deal with that problem — undocumented immigration — the method the law employs is legalized racial profiling, done under the auspices of enforcing immigration law.

This court’s decision is expected by June, and anticipated to be ruled in favor of the law, or possibly a split decision. We’ll keep you posted.

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