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Arizona’s SB 1070 Amici Briefs: What the Signers Tell You About this Law

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Next week, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on Arizona’s arch-anti-immigrant law, SB 1070—an all-important, game-changing clash between the federal supremacy clause, the need for federal immigration reform, and the belief that states can and should pursue efforts to make undocumented immigrants self-deport.

Activists, officials, lawyers, and lawmakers all over the nation have been lining up and choosing a side: last month, over 300 organizations joined 19 amici briefs supporting the U.S. government in its legal challenge against SB 1070.  Among those joining are sixty-eight Members of Congress; forty-four former state attorneys general; dozens of cities and towns; labor, business, and civil rights leaders; law enforcement experts; foreign governments; the American Bar Association; the American Civil Liberties Union; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former commissioners of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; prominent religious institutions; and numerous immigrants’ rights organizations.  Every facet of Main Street America is represented here.

And then there are the amici filers from the other side, opposing the Federal government’s challenge to SB 1070 and supporting the Arizona law.  This list, compiled here by SCOTUS Blog, is a veritable who’s who of the anti-immigrant world, a collection of the worst-of-the-worst restrictionists, nativists, and extremists.  It’s not enviable company: the list includes a recalled former state senator, a notorious sheriff currently being sued by the Justice Department, a group that once included a woman convicted of murder, a Member of Congress who thinks that we should treat undocumented immigrants like livestock, and several outfits with known ties to a white supremacist.  They represent the dark side of America—the one that believes all immigrants are criminals and the only solution to our broken immigration system is mass deportation or the “kinder, gentler” version: self-deportation.

The pro-SB 1070 amici briefs can be divided into three groups:

1.  The John Tanton network: Both the New York Times and Mother Jones have written recent exposés on John Tanton, the father of the modern anti-immigrant movement and the founder of a whole network of organizations devoted to restricting immigration.  He’s linked to anti-immigrant groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (or FAIR, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group), the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA; as well as people like Tom Tancredo (the “face of Republican racism”) and Lou Dobbs (who was kicked off his CNN show for inflammatory nativist comments).

Even more ominously, Tanton is known for writing papers about the “Latin onslaught” and accepting money from a foundation that promotes theories of white supremacy.  His connection to the pro-SB 1070 crowd?  The Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is the legal arm of FAIR, signed onto one of the briefs, as did its chief counsel, Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who authored SB 1070 and sometimes advises Mitt Romney on immigration policy.  A third brief is signed by Barnaby Zall, an author with the Social Contract Press, a “race-baiting,” “white nationalist” newsletter put out by Tanton’s foundation.

2.  The anti-immigrant extraordinaires: In a sentence, these are the people who make hobbies and careers out of being anti-immigrant, who are obsessed with portraying immigrants as job-stealing criminals and deporting every single immigrant currently in the country.  First within this group is a subset of Arizona officials: there’s Russell Pearce, the sponsor of SB 1070 and the former state senator who was so preoccupied with all things immigration that he was recalled in a historic election last year for ignoring voter priorities like jobs and the economy.  There’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (along with Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever), whose tank-and-machine-gun raids of immigrant neighborhoods have prompted two federal investigations and now a federal lawsuit.  And there is a brief from the Arizona state legislature itself, the body that followed up SB 1070 this year by passing an anti-“ethnic solidarity” law that prohibits public schools from teaching Mexican-American history or culture.

Next we move to the border to look at briefs filed by Lawrence J. Joyce of the Civil Homeland Defense Group and by the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, both disbanded militia-type groups founded by border vigilante Chris Simcox.  In 2009, the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps received some unflattering attention after former member Shawna Forde was arrested for the murder of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father during an attempt at a drug robbery.  In 2010, Chris Simcox himself was served a restraining order after his wife claimed he “brandished a gun and threatened to shoot her, their children, and any police officers who tried to protect them.”  Let’s not even get into the brief from U.S. Border Control, signed in part by gun nuts and English-language only advocates.

Finally, there’s a subset of anti-immigrant diehards from around the country, including Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), most recently known for arguing that the federal government should not bother improving health care standards for immigrant detainees.  There’s a brief filed by a collection of state legislators who support SB 1070, signed by—among others—Alabama State Senator Scott Beason, who once referred to African Americans as “aborigines” (while wearing an FBI wire); has suggested that we should “empty the clip” and “do what needs to be done” on undocumented immigrants; and sponsored HB 56, Alabama’s own, even darker, version of SB 1070.  The pro-SB 1070 crowd also has a number of its own state attorney generals, representing states currently waging war on immigrants: Georgia and South Carolina, of course, have their own anti-immigrant laws; Kris Kobach’s Kansas this year decided to amend its food stamp policy in a way that gives less aid to some US-born children of undocumented immigrants; and Nebraska just this week has decided not to extend prenatal care to pregnant women unless their papers are in order.

3.  The Other Right-Wingers: Our last group of pro-SB 1070 amici brief signers are extremist types who—though they may not be involved in the anti-immigrant movement—are still pretty unsavory characters, the kind you wouldn’t want to look up and find standing on your side.  There’s the Thomas More Law Center, most famous for losing the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design case and defending Lt. Col Jeffrey Chessani against misconduct allegations over the 2005 Haditha killings; the birtherist Liberty Legal Foundation, which sued to keep the Democratic National Committee from certifying President Obama as its nominee for the 2012 general election; Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, who has called Barack Obama a “racist, black-Muslim sympathizer and Jew-and-white hater” who is “the biggest and most evil whore of them all”; and the Landmark Legal Foundation, which once nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize, calling him the “foremost advocate for freedom and democracy in the world today.”

In total, there are 19 pro-SB 1070 amici briefs filed, at least 17 of which are signed by a white supremacist sympathizers, Minutemen, rogue law enforcement officers, and others with ties to the anti-immigrant movement.  Supreme Court arguments aren’t won or lost by the sympathy quotient of supporters on either side.  But what does it say about SB 1070, and those who support it, when this is what constitutes their lineup?