The federal government's decision to sue Arizona over the state's controversial new immigration law ensures that the issue will remain in the spotlight as the fall campaign season heats up. Like the law itself, the lawsuit is dividing major newspaper editorial boards.
More than anything else, Arizona's law — which gives local police the authority to question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant — "is a cry for federal help," The Wall Street Journal argues . Arizona took legislative action, the paper says, because the federal government didn't.
The Obama administration's decision to challenge the law in court shows that the administration "has gone out of its way to pander to liberal activists and other critics of the measure and inflame the already emotional issue," the Journal says, arguing that the lawsuit hurts the chances of a bipartisan congressional accord on immigration. Notably, the paper believes that "the feds may well win their case (against Arizona) on the constitutional merits," but it discounts the administration's lawsuit as a cheap way of scoring political points ahead of crucial midterm elections.
The Washington Post editorial board supports the lawsuit and believes the constitutional questions are settled. "States are free to determine most laws and policies within their borders- even if the results are reprehensible and shortsighted," The Post writes. "What they cannot do is pass laws that trump or ignore the federal government. The Justice Department suit, filed in Phoenix federal court, calls Arizona on this breach, noting that the Constitution and Congress have vested the federal government — not the states — with exclusive authority to establish immigration and nationality laws."
USA Today calls the Arizona law "draconian" and "potentially an unconstitutional infringement on federal powers." But the paper, like The Wall Street Journal , believes the federal lawsuit poisons the political atmosphere and decreases the chances for federal immigration reform. And the legal challenge is premature anyway, according to the paper: "The law doesn't even take effect until July 29. The harmful effects are, for now, theoretical. Government lawyers can't yet point to an instance of racial profiling, which would make their case stronger."
One point on which both ends of the political spectrum agree is that the Arizona law — and Tuesday's lawsuit — would be unnecessary if Congress had enacted comprehensive national immigration reform. In blunt terms, editorialists around the country are condemning the federal government for years of inaction, and calling into question whether lawmakers will have the resolve to address the issue this year.