Tag: Arizona

Another New Supreme Court Term, Another New Justice

Today is the first Monday in October, the traditional start of the Supreme Court term.  While we have yet to see as many blockbuster constitutional cases on the docket as we did last term—which, despite the high profile 5-4 splits in McDonald v. Chicago and Citizens United actually produced fewer dissents than any in recent memory—we do look forward to:

  • Two big free speech challenges, one over a statute prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors, another the offensive protesting of a fallen soldier’s funeral;
  • An Establishment Clause lawsuit against Arizona’s tax credit for private tuition funds (an alternative to educational voucher programs);
  • Regulatory federalism (or “preemption”) cases involving:
    • safety standards for seatbelts;
    • an Arizona statute regarding the hiring of illegal aliens; and
    • the forbidding of class-arbitration waivers as unconscionable components of arbitration agreements;
  • Important ERISA and copyright cases;
  • A case examining privacy concerns attending the federal government’s background checks for contractors; and
  • A criminal procedure dispute regarding access to DNA testing that may support a claim of innocence.

Cato has filed amicus briefs in several of these cases—and in various others which the Court may decide to review later this year—so I will be paying extra-close attention.

Perhaps more importantly, we again have a new justice—and, as Justice White often said, a new justice makes a new Court.  While her confirmation was never in any serious doubt, Elena Kagan faced strong criticism (including from me) on a variety of issues—most importantly on her refusal to “grade” past Court decisions or identify any specific limits to government power.  The 37 votes against Kagan were the most ever for a successful Democratic nominee, which is emblematic of a turbulent political environment in which the Constitution and the basic question of where government derives its power figure prominently.  

Given Kagan’s political and professional background, it is safe to assume that she’s not the second coming of Clarence Thomas.  And because she replaces the “liberal lion” Justice Stevens, her elevation from “tenth justice” (as the solicitor general is known) to ninth is unlikely to cause an immediate change in issues that most divide the Court—particularly because she is recused from nearly half the cases this term.  She could, however, add an interesting and nuanced perspective on a variety of lower-profile issues.  Only time will tell what kind of justice Kagan will be now that she is, seemingly for the first time in her ambitious life, unconstrained to speak her mind.

Here’s to another interesting, varied, and (hopefully) liberty-enhancing year!

Clean Elections Act Dirties the First Amendment

In 1998, after years of scandals ranging from governors being indicted to legislators taking bribes, Arizona passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act. This law was intended to “clean up” state politics by creating a system for publicly funding campaigns.

Participation in the public funding is not mandatory, however, and those who do not participate are subject to rules that match their “excess” private funds with disbursals to their opponent from the public fund. In short, if a privately funded candidate spends more than his publicly funded opponent, then the publicly funded candidate receives public “matching funds.”

Whatever the motivations behind the law, the effects have been to significantly chill political speech. Indeed, ample evidence introduced at trial in a lawsuit challenging the law showed that privately funded candidates changed their spending — and thus their speaking — as a result of the matching funds provisions. In elections, where there is no effective speech without spending money, the matching funds provision of the Clean Elections Act diminishes the quality and quantity of political speech.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. FEC struck down a similar provision in the federal McCain-Feingold law in which individually wealthy candidates were penalized for spending their own money by triggering increased contribution limits for their opponents. Even this modest opportunity for opponents to raise more money was found to be an unconstitutional burden on political speech.

Cato has thus filed a brief supporting a request that the Supreme Court review the lower court’s decision upholding Arizona’s Clean Elections Act.  We highlight Davis (in which Cato also filed a brief) and numerous other cases that point to a clear conclusion: if the mere possibility of your opponent getting more money is unconstitutional, then the guarantee that your opponent will get more money (Arizona’s act automatically disburses matching funds) is even more so. Allowing the government to abridge political speech in this fashion not only diminishes the quality of our political debate, but it ignores the fundamental principle upon which the First Amendment is premised: that the government cannot be trusted to regulate political speech for the public benefit. 

The Supreme Court will decide later this fall whether to review this case, McComish v. Bennett.

Feds Challenge Arizona Immigration Law

Yesterday, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona’s recently enacted law that is designed to curb illegal immigration. The Arizona law has not yet taken effect – that will occur on July 29.  To generate more discussion and debate, Cato will be hosting a policy forum on the legal challenge and related issues on July 21.  If the weather in DC continues to cooperate, it will feel like we are actually in Arizona.

Go here for Cato work related to immigration policy.

School Vouchers vs. Tax Credits

NRO editor Robert VerBruggen has weighed in a couple of times this week on the relative merits of school vouchers and education tax credits, raising interesting and important issues.

In response to my earlier post today about an education tax credit case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, VerBruggen writes:

If the Supreme Court buys this logic — which I suppose is sound on its face — it could lead to some very interesting programs. Any time it’s illegal for a government to fund something directly, it could simply make a dollar-for-dollar “tax credit” program for it, allowing sympathetic taxpayers to technically “donate” — but actually just redirect the taxes they’d otherwise have to pay — to the cause.

This is actually an argument presented by critics of the program in their brief asking the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal that it… just decided to hear. The fact that this argument is fallacious is no doubt one reason that the Supreme Court decided to reject critics’ request. Here’s where it goes wrong:

Under a constitutional tax credit program such as Arizona’s, the state has no power to pressure/encourage taxpayers to do anything that the state could not do directly. Taxpayers can choose to give no money to religious charities, or to give all their money to them. The state is unable to affect their decisions in any way.

As Ilya Shapiro and I pointed out in Cato’s amicus brief in this case, this is identical to the law pertaining to federal charitable tax deductions. Religious charities get more tax deductible donations than any other kind of entity, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld their constitutionality because the decisions regarding such donations are left entirely to the unfettered choices of private citizens.

While it would be unconstitutional for a tax credit program to only allow donations to religious charities, it is perfectly consistent with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent for a tax credit program to be religiously neutral, leaving the donating decisions to private citizens.

But there’s much more to it than this. Credits are not just constitutional, they offer an important advantage over vouchers. Under voucher programs, all taxpayers must support every kind of schooling, which can be a source of social conflict in a diverse society. [Think liberals being forced to fund religious-conservative-capitalist schooling; or conservatives being forced to fund schools supporting homosexuality as natural and without any inherent moral implications]. While this doesn’t violate the U.S. constitution (see Zelman v. Simmons Harris), it’s still a less-than-ideal outcome, as was observed in all three dissents in the Zelman case.

Tax credits, as I explained in the last section of our amicus brief (p. 21), avoid this source of social conflict. Not just families but taxpayers enjoy the benefits of free choice and voluntary association. Tax credits are thus a way to ensure universal access to a free educational marketplace without putting citizens into conflict with one another on matters of conscience. For this and many other reasons, they are the best realistic policy for advancing educational freedom yet devised.

‘All Your Income Are Belong to the State’

An otherwise very good story in the Arizona Republic today begins badly:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review the constitutionality of an Arizona program that diverts state tax revenue into private-school scholarships.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t do that. No state tax revenue is used in Arizona’s program, which offers a tax cut (a.k.a. “credit”) to folks who donate to non-profit k-12 tuition assistance organizations. Those non-profits then subsidize private school tuition for families seeking financial help.

Back in 1999, the Arizona Supreme Court made all this clear. Those who were trying to kill the program (at the time, the “petitioners”) claimed that the donated funds were “public money.” The Court begged to differ, writing:

Petitioners argue that this tax credit channels public money to private and sectarian schools in violation of the state constitution…. As respondents note, however, no money ever enters the state’s control as a result of this tax credit. Nothing is deposited in the state treasury or other accounts under the management or possession of governmental agencies or public officials. Thus, under any common understanding of the words, we are not here dealing with “public money.” (p. 19-21)

It would be fine for the Arizona Republic to report that critics refuse to accept the Arizona Supreme Court’s interpretation, and that they are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will see things their way (FYI: not gonna happen). But it is not okay for the Republic, on its “news” pages, to take sides in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court by adopting the legal assumptions of the program’s critics.

P.S.  Yes, the title is a reference to this.

Update on the Arizona Immigration Issue

Since I provided my legal analysis of the new Arizona immigration law, I’ve become aware of a few interesting developments in that regard.

First, it seems that I wasn’t working off the latest version of the bill – which I should add is awfully hard to find.  Indeed, perhaps we should excuse Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano for not having read it; both the Arizona Senate’s website for SB 1070, and the Arizona House’s website for the amending legislation, HB 2162, list several different versions under their “Bill Versions” tabs that do not match the bills in the other.  As someone who typically plays in the federal sandbox, if someone can direct me to a verified true copy of the final operative bill, as signed and amended, my colleagues and I – indeed the entire policy community – would be grateful.

In any case, I’m please to announce that the (seemingly) final amended version I’m now working from has improved an already constitutional bill by further safeguarding civil liberties.  Most notably, the ”may I see your papers?” provision was changed to read that law enforcement officials shall make a “reasonable attempt … when practicable, to determine the immigration status” only after having made a “lawful stop, detention, or arrest … in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance … where suspicion exists that the [detained] person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States” (amended text in bold). This establishes a higher predicate standard for police to initiate contact with any person to whom this law will be applied. In other words, there has to be an independent reason for the stop or detention before the police can ask to see proof of immigration status.

The amended bill also prohibits any consideration of “race, color or national origin” in enforcing the new law in any manner that runs afoul of either the U.S. or Arizona constitutions.  Moreover, the legislature clarified that the determination of an alien’s immigration status would only be performed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Border Patrol, or a “law enforcement officer who is authorized [to do so] by the federal government.”

All of these changes unquestionably improved the civil rights provisions of the law and should further protect it from successful legal challenge – again without saying anything about the law’s policy wisdom.

Second, while some analysts have argued that Arizona’s law might be preempted by federal law – although the leading case, De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, which is 34 years old and predates more recent immigration reforms, is not favorable to that position – Roger Pilon alerted me to a 2005 case (unanimous in the judgment, less so in the reasoning), Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, that shows that Arizona’s law doesn’t go as far as the Constitution might allow.  In Mena, the police detained the inhabitants of a house whice they were searching pursuant to a lawful search warrant.  While most of the officers performed the search, others questioned one detainee about her immigration status without any reasonable suspicious that she committed any crime – and certainly without having any reasonable suspicion that she was an illegal alien.  The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, upheld this line of questioning.  Part of the reasoning was that the “may I see your papers?” bit did not prolong the detention in any way – the search was still ongoing – but this is at least some indication that the Constitution allows immigration-related questioning without even the reasonable suspicion required by Arizona.

Third, apparently the head of ICE, John Morton, said his agency will not process illegal immigrants referred to them by Arizona officials.  Morton apparently doesn’t think that laws like Arizona’s “are the solution.”  Well, we at Cato certainly agree that Arizona’s law will not solve a problem that demands a comprehensive federal solution, but that doesn’t mean federal officials can simply decline to perform their duties under the law as it exists.  What Morton proposes is akin to state “nullification” of duly enacted federal law – except worse, because his agency’s job is to enforce that very law.  If Morton feels that strongly about our immigration laws, he should either resign or, while complying with his duties, testify before Congress about the law’s defects and lobby his boss, President Obama, to push reform.

Fourth and finally, President Obama is deploying 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and requesting $500 million more for border security.  With due respect to Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, who want even more troops and money, this approach is neither here nor there.  (And it echoes Obama’s split-the-baby decision on Afghanistan, not willing to go for a whole-hog escalation but also not willing to rethink the overall policy.)  Half-measures won’t do it here, Mr. President (and Congress).  If you lack the heart (or have too much of a brain) for a full wall-and-militarization of our southern border – and perhaps mass rounding up and deportation of 12 million people – it’s time for a fundamental reorganization of the immigration system.

U.S. immigration (non-)policy is nonsensical and unworkable.  We’re beyond the point of perestroika; it’s time for regime change.

New Crime Stats Contradict Anti-Immigrant Hype

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.