After the Arizona legislature passed a bill seeking to force the federal government to enforce immigration laws, the state was subjected to an avalanche of criticism lambasting it for legislation that was characterized as racist. But now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the key element of the law was constitutional, the state’s critics, including the president of the United States, have found themselves on the losing side of the argument. Though most of the law, which trespassed on an issue that is a federal responsibility was overturned, the High Court unanimously ruled that the most controversial part of the measure — the requirement that law enforcement officials check the immigration status of anyone they arrest or stop for questioning — was constitutional. Though that issue will be sent back to the appeals level to allow for further challenges, much-maligned Arizonans can view themselves as largely vindicated, at least for the moment.
But now that the Court has ruled, this decision, like the long-awaited ruling on ObamaCare which will be handed down on Thursday, may become fodder for Democratic strategists who hope to enhance the president’s chances of re-election by making the conservative majority on the Court a campaign issue. Because so much effort has already been expended by the liberal mainstream media in demonizing the Arizona law for what was widely characterized as a form of discrimination, this may well play into Democratic talking points aimed at Hispanic voters. But however much this may help the president with some Hispanics, any effort to make the plight of illegal immigrants a central part of the president’s election narrative runs the risk of alienating the majority of Americans who sympathized with the Arizona law.
Some liberals are declaring the Court ruling a victory because much of it was tossed out. But for most of those who cared about this issue, the “check your papers” measure was the key to the controversy, and its survival must be considered a limited victory for Arizona. It is possible, as liberals are hoping, that even that point will be eventually ruled unconstitutional if it can be proved that it is enforced on a racial or ethnic basis. But it’s worth remembering that the Solicitor General who argued the administration’s case for throwing out the entire law flopped because even liberal justices agreed that his position was, as Chief Justice Roberts pointed out, “that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not.”
As much as his tougher line on illegals is one that will cost Mitt Romney Hispanic votes in November, taking a position that the government should not enforce existing immigration laws and offering amnesty to large numbers of undocumented aliens will hurt the president with the rest of the country. As David Paul Kuhn pointed out in an insightful analysis on RealClearPolitics.com, the president’s growing problem with voters who are neither African-American nor Hispanic is a far greater obstacle to victory than Romney’s problems with Hispanics. Though non-whites are an increasingly larger percentage of the electorate, as Kuhn writes, Obama is currently getting a smaller share of the white vote than any Democrat since Walter Mondale and far less than the 43 percent he got in 2008.
The Court’s ruling may turn out to be a trap for the president if he continues to focus on the rights of illegals not to be asked about their status. The Democratic obsession with winning the Hispanic vote could come at a very high price. Though Obama’s position denouncing all of the Arizona law was applauded in the media, this is not a winner with those non-minorities Obama is losing to Romney.