Supreme Court's Arizona Immigration Ruling: Codifying Racial Profiling

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

The focus in the last day has been the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling upholding the healthcare bill -- but I would like to revisit the dangerous earlier ruling on the Arizona immigration law.
On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered a split decision on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration bill outlawing several provisions—while upholding section 2B, which allows police to ask people they arrest, or pull over, for proof of American citizenship.

Won’t this ruling cause racial profiling to become even more prevalent—than it already is—in Black and Latino communities?

Monday’s ruling was seen as a victory by some, especially Republicans, who argue that President Obama and Democrats have failed to implement a responsible immigration bill. "Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law,” said Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R-A). “It is also 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.”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney also used the opportunity to attack President Obama. "Today's decision underscores the need for a President who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy,” said Mr. Romney.

“President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration. This represents yet another broken promise by this President. I believe that each state has the duty--and the right--to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities. As Candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But four years later, we are still waiting."

However, many people also point out that Monday’s ruling upheld the major premise President Barack Obama and others have argued: that crafting immigration policy is the sole responsibility of the federal government. Yet, the retaining of Section 2(B) of SB 1070—the so-called “show me your papers” provision—has created anxiety in many who feel this Supreme Court has made a serious judicial blunder in, apparently, codifying police profiling as a lawful practice.

"No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like," said President Obama, after the ruling.  “I will work with anyone in Congress who's willing to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our economic needs and security needs, and upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

The Supreme Court ruling came days after the president issued a directive imposing a moratorium on deporting certain illegal immigrants, under 30-years-old, who came here as young children and who have proven themselves, to be, responsible residents.

On the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voiced his unease with the decision—which he said may lead to more racial profiling by police. “I am 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.”

Arizona Representatives Raul Grijalva expressed a similar concern saying “Unfortunately, the Court made a grave error in upholding the discriminatory 'show me your papers' provision that violates basic rights and denies equal justice. This is the most poisonous part of the law.”

This judgment by the Supreme Court is indeed toxic. Do these judges realize they’ve just legalized racial profiling—for those who don’t fit the profile of looking like “regular” Americans? Is there any way this decision won’t lead to increased lawsuits for racial profiling against police?

Ironically, there was a time when one had great reverence and respect for the justices on the Supreme Court. In our times, the Supreme Court was often the one branch of government that got it right. Several times, it was this highest branch of the country’s legal system that could be counted on to extinguish those inflammable issues that threaten to explode in America’s face. But that era is over.

History will surely judge this Supreme Court with ridicule and derision—notwithstanding, the pleasantly surprising, head-scratching swing-vote of Chief Justice John Roberts to uphold President Obama’s signature healthcare mandate. The John Roberts’ Court may very well become compared to another infamously bad Supreme Court: that of Justice Roger B. Taney.

The decision by this Court to uphold this racist Arizona legislative measure—the brainchild of Arizona Republican Russell Pearce, who has since been removed from office in a successful recall election—will surely give legal cover to police profiling and prejudice. In 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney Court decision in the Dread Scott Case did a similar thing.

In the 1857 Dread Scott Decision, the Taney Court found that “beings” like Dread Scott—an African-American slave—were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

The Dread Scott decision cemented the legal framework that allowed bigoted whites to continue to oppress—and murder—African-Americans with the blessings of the legal system. This Arizona “law” will do likewise to those, “beings,” who don’t look like “regular” Americans. It will affect Americans who look different and speak different: like myself.

I’m and African-American of a unique sort: I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But even more than that, many White Americans usually think I’m Jamaican—especially, since I talk with a Caribbean accent and wear dreadlocks. Like many of the so-called “alien” immigrant element, I get those “what’s he doing here” looks quite often.  I am profiled fairly regular while driving—most times they follow from a distance wishing to find any reason to pull you over. After this idiotic ruling, I anticipate that some bigot filled with hate—and a badge—will ask me too for citizenship papers at some point.

So, just how will police officers now decided who to ask for their citizenship papers? What’s the criteria going to be to decide who gets interrogated? Does anyone seriously think White police officers are going to ask White people—even those with European accents, mannerisms and tendencies—for citizenship papers? And since we know police profiling is a major problem already—Black New Yorkers can testify to this—isn’t it clear this ruling will only make police profiling worse?

The truth is: far too many of these conservative Republican types are nothing more than racist reactionaries. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court just made it easier for bigots to practice their bigotry.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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