The Corner

United States v. Arizona — How ‘Bout United States v. Rhode Island?

Well whaddya know? It turns out that Rhode Island has long been carrying out the procedures at issue in the Arizona immigration statute: As a matter of routine, RI state police check immigration status at traffic stops whenever there is reasonable suspicion to do so, and they report all illegals to the feds for deportation. Besides the usual profiling blather, critics have trotted out the now familiar saw that such procedures hamstring police because they make immigrants afraid to cooperate. But it turns out that it’s the Rhode Island police who insist on enforcing the law. As Cornell law prof William Jacobson details at Legal Insurrection, Colonel Brendan P. Doherty, the state police commander, “refuses to hide from the issue,” explaining, ”I would feel that I’m derelict in my duties to look the other way.”

If, as President Obama and Attorney General Holder claim, there is a federal preemption issue, why hasn’t the administration sued Rhode Island already? After all, Rhode Island is actually enforcing these procedures, while the Arizona law hasn’t even gone into effect yet.

Could it be because — as we’ve discussed here before — the Supreme Court in Muehler v. Mena has already held that police do not need any reason (not probable cause, not reasonable suspicion) to ask a person about his immigration status?

Could it be that just this past February, in Estrada v. Rhode Island, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the Rhode Island procedures, reasoning that, in Muehler v. Mena, the Supreme Court “held that a police officer does not need independent reasonable suspicion to question an individual about her immigration status”?

So, we have a Justice Department that drops a case it already won against New Black Panthers who are on tape intimidating voters in blatant violation of federal law, but that sues a sovereign state for enacting a statute in support of immigration enforcement practices that have already been upheld by two of the nation’s highest courts. Perfect.

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