In a Police State, Everyone Loses: The Supreme Courtís Ruling in
Arizona v. United States Endangers Us All
by John W. Whitehead
by John W. Whitehead: Terror
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youre dark-haired, brown-skinned and have the misfortune of
living in Arizona in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling
in State of Arizona v. United States of America, get ready
to be stopped, searched and questioned. Then again, if youre
a citizen living in the United States, this is merely one more component
of the police state that appears to be descending upon us.
Thanks to a
muddled decision handed down by the Supreme Court on June 25, Arizona
police officers now have broad authority to stop, search and question
individuals citizen and non-citizen alike. While the law prohibits
officers from considering race, color, or national origin, it amounts
to little more than a perfunctory nod to discrimination laws on
the books, while paving the way for outright racial profiling.
v. United States, one of this terms most controversial
cases, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether federal
law trumps Arizonas immigration law, the Support Our Law Enforcement
and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070). A divided Court struck down
as unconstitutional key provisions pertaining to the criminalizing
of illegal immigrants (for not possessing their federal registration
cards while working, applying for work or soliciting work) and warrantless
arrests by police, declaring that the state may not pursue
policies that undermine federal law. At the same time, the
Court unanimously affirmed the Arizona laws show me
your papers provision requiring police to check the immigration
status of people they stop for any reason.
mixed bag of a ruling that is being hailed as a victory by spin
doctors at all ends of the political spectrum. President Obama,
whose administration challenged the Arizona statute as attempting
to preempt federal law, hailed the ruling as a clear referendum
on the fact that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration
reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken
immigration system it's part of the problem. Meanwhile,
Jan Brewer, Arizonas governor and a major player in the immigration
wars, claimed the ruling as a victory for the 10th Amendment
and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility
of states to defend their citizens. After more than two years of
legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in
accordance with the U.S. Constitution.
Yet no amount
of spin can detract from the fact that this ruling does little to
recognize or counteract the real danger inherent in S.B. 1070, which
is the erection of a prototype police state in Arizona. By allowing
Arizona police to stop and search people, citizens and immigrants
alike, based only on their own subjective suspicions and visual
observations, and by failing to address the core issue being debated
here namely, whether Americans have any Fourth Amendment protections
anymore the Court has opened the door to a host of abuses,
the least of which will be racial profiling. Without fail, we will
be revisiting this issue again, especially in light of the fact
that Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have adopted
Justice Harlan famously stated that [o]ur Constitution is
color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.
However, S.B. 1070 and those like it have the very real potential
to create both the perception and the reality that a new lower class
of citizenship exists for one segment of citizens in the United
States those whose skin color is anything other than white.
Citizenship and legal presence in the United States will be no protection
against such racist policies.
of citizenship, as the Supreme Court recognized in its seminal Fourth
Amendment case Miranda v. Arizona (1966), involves the enjoyment
of dignity and integrity. At the very least, this means
being accorded a level of respect, regard, and autonomy in
dealings with the police. This goes to the crux of the problem:
there is no room for dignity and integrity in a police state. Yet
with every ruling being handed down right now, were being
moved that much closer to such a state of affairs.
all is said and done, the mindset behind the Supreme Courts
ruling in Arizona v. United States is no different from that
of Florence v. Burlington (which prioritized making life
easier for overworked jail officials over the basic right of Americans
to be free from debasing strip searches), or Kentucky v. King
(police were given greater leeway to break into homes or apartments
without a warrant), or Brooks v. City of Seattle (police
officers who clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered
a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity
unrelated cases perfectly encapsulate how much the snare enclosing
us has tightened, how little recourse we really have at least
in the courts, and how truly bleak is the landscape of our freedoms.
What these respective rulings reveal is that the governmental bureaucracy
has stopped viewing us, the American people, as human beings who
should be treated with worth and dignity. That was the purpose of
the Bill of Rights.
Amendments protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
of our persons and effects was designed so that government agents
would be forced to treat us with due respect. With this protection
now gone, those who attempt to exercise their rights will often
be forced to defend themselves against an increasingly inflexible
and uncompromising government. Some will come under scrutiny for
their political or religious views, others for the color of their
skin, while still others may be targeted for merely being in the
wrong place at the wrong time, or for trying to hold fast to some
last shred of privacy.
In this way,
the Courts ruling in Arizona v. United States sounds
a warning far greater than the singular matter of how states deal
with illegal immigration. To those who can hear it, it says beware:
the police state is almost upon you.
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks).
© 2012 The Rutherford Institute
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