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The Citizens United and immigration decisions

Posted: June 29, 2012 5:28 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2012 5:00 a.m.

As Independence Day approaches, I’m disheartened by two recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decisions. Both were split decisions on how certain laws will be applied. (I’ll save Thursday’s healthcare decision another time.)

First up, the court’s refusal to reconsider what I believe is one of its worst decisions ever -- Citizens United. The 2010 ruling held that Citizens United, a conservative non-profit group, should have had the First Amendment right to spend however much money it wanted back in 2008 to have an anti-Hillary Clinton film air during prime time TV within a previously prohibited amount of time right before the 2008 Democratic Primary.

The documentary was blocked, but Citizens United went up the chain of courts until justices overturned portions of the applicable law -- and the floodgates of unlimited corporate spending on election-related speech. Suddenly, a corporation had the same rights as individual people.

Two years ago, justices ruled in favor of Citizens United on a 5-4 partisan vote, Democrat-leaning justices dissenting. A week ago, justices refused to reconsider the decision -- based on the state of Montana’s attempting to enforce its own state laws on corporate campaign contributions -- on another 5-4 partisan vote.

In my opinion, this held the door open for “super PAC,” political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions. It appears that, at least in some cases, donations can be made to these super Pacs without any disclosure.

That, I believe, has led to the creation of shadowy groups that fund advertisements -- whether print or video -- targeting candidates whose stances on certain issues don’t meet their standards and then disappear as fast as they came.

Before you think I’ve become a conspiracy theorist, this has happened right here in South Carolina. A group no one had ever heard of -- Citizens for a Better Charleston -- tried to oust longtime Mayor Joe Riley through a very targeted campaign. They were unsuccessful, but the implications are serious.

Better Charleston was able to launch its campaign because of a ruling by a U.S. district court judge in Florence that was handed down in September 2010, just 10 months after the SCOTUS Citizens United ruling.

Coincidence? I think not, but I’ll leave that for you to ponder and the following thought: do we really want corporations and others who hide behind such laws to be the guiding hand behind elections and political decisions?

Much thornier is the SCOTUS decision on immigration. I’ve said before and will repeat here that I do not support illegal immigration. I am for immigration -- it’s how this country was founded and how it has grown to become the greatest country on Earth. That doesn’t mean I want people using illicit means, no matter how pure their goals, to come here.

However, as I wrote exactly a year ago, Congress should have passed the DREAM Act that would have provided, with conditions, permanent residency for high school graduates “of good moral character” who arrived in this country illegally.

On June 15, President Barack Obama did what many are calling an “end run” around Congress: “Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.” He said it was not amnesty, not immunity, not a path to citizenship, not a permanent fix. “This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.”

With this, I agree. The sins of the parents should not be borne by their children. Perhaps now, the U.S. Senate will pass its version of the DREAM Act. The U.S. House already has, and a compromise could still be hammered out to make the president’s announcement moot.

I know there are those who don’t believe presidents should exercise their powers the way Obama did. I quickly point out that he’s not the only one who has from both parties on any number of issues.

Certain students’ parents, however, might still be asked for their papers when stopping them on other grounds and a “reasonable suspicion” exists they are in the country illegally. That’s the part of Arizona’s law the SCOTUS upheld.

What the heck is a “reasonable suspicion” I’d like to know. Is it that they’ve been arrested with others already identified by Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Is it when they’re stopped in a particular part of town? Or because they look Latino?

The ruling struck down three parts of immigration law in Arizona. According to USA Today, the court ruled that Arizona “overstepped its authority by creating state crimes targeting illegal immigrants.” In that state, it was a crime for illegal immigrants not to carry registration papers on their person, a crime for illegal immigrants to even solicit work but OK for local police to arrest illegal aliens in some cases -- without a warrant.

Look, if a law doesn’t stand for the average citizen why should it stand for immigrants? Sure, you say, they’re here illegally, why not? Because they’re not all here illegally and you shouldn’t persecute the whole for the acts of some.

What really concerns me is that eight justices (Justice Elena Kagan did not participate) unanimously ruled in favor of upholding the “show me papers” portion of Arizona’s law.

Since when did even our most liberal judges believe it was OK to demand “papers” of someone just because they belong to a certain ethnic group -- even if they did not say exactly that?

Thankfully, there’s a good chance this part of the ruling will be challenged again. As it should -- this isn’t what America is about.

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