While many lawmakers today rushed to issue reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, two of the top Republicans in government — Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — were not among them.
A Boehner spokesman said the Speaker “will review the decision,” and McConnell’s office declined to directly comment on the ruling as well. Instead, a McConnell spokesman pointed to the joint statement from Arizona’s Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.
“While we still want to fully review the Supreme Court’s decision, today’s ruling appears to validate a key component of Arizona’s immigration law, S.B. 1070,” McCain and Kyl said.
“The Arizona law was born out of the state’s frustration with the burdens that illegal immigration and continued drug smuggling impose on its schools, hospitals, criminal justice system and fragile desert environment, and an administration that chooses to set enforcement policies based on a political agenda, not the laws as written by Congress,” the two said. “We will continue our efforts on behalf of the citizens of Arizona to secure our southern border. We believe Arizonans are better served when state and federal officials work as partners to protect our citizens rather than as litigants in a courtroom.”
The relative silence was not necessarily surprising given the political reality Republicans face as they seek to pacify party factions looking for tough immigration enforcement laws while also courting Hispanic voters who might be turned off by such a stance.
Other senior Republicans were not as shy. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) said he found the ruling disturbing and blamed President Barack Obama for the current state of affairs.
“I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today, which limits the ability of states to protect their citizens and communities from illegal immigrants,” Smith said. “It is the federal government’s job to enforce our immigration laws, but President Obama has willfully neglected this responsibility. This dereliction of duty has left states to address the crime, job loss and other costs of illegal immigration.
“Unfortunately, under this administration, today’s 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,” Smith continued. “This is especially bad news for border states since they have to deal with border violence, drug trafficking and illegal immigration.”
Obama and Democratic House and Senate leaders praised the Supreme Court today for striking down three elements of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law, but lamented the court’s decision to uphold the provision allowing police to check the immigration status of those they detain for other reasons.
“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, which was not just ill-advised but also unconstitutional,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said in a release.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said she was “pleased that the Supreme Court struck down the vast majority of Arizona’s immigration law.”
The issue of immigration has become a significant part of the election year debate, as both parties — particularly Democrats — try to position themselves with Latino votes ahead of the November elections.
Reid said that he is “greatly concerned that the provision putting American citizens in danger of being detained by police unless they carry their immigration papers at all times will lead to a system of racial profiling.”
Pelosi said that she shares “the concerns of President Obama and many legal organizations over the decision to leave in place the dangerous ‘show-me-your-papers’ provision. This provision of the law keeps the door open to blatant discrimination against American citizens, minorities and immigrants. The Court has said this section needs additional review, and I am hopeful that it will be struck down in the future.”
In a 5-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court upheld the provision of S.B. 1070 that allowed law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally, the “papers please” provision, as critics have dubbed it.
But the justices struck down most other parts of the law, such as provisions that made it a state crime for undocumented immigrants not to have identification, to work or to apply for work, as well as a provision that allowed law enforcement officers to arrest without a warrant undocumented immigrants suspected of committing crimes that would lead to their deportation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.