Conservatives like to whine about “states rights” when it comes to abortion, drugs, and butt sex, but are curiously silent about “states rights” when it comes to California’s sanctuary laws. While the term “sanctuary state” can vary in meaning, it essentially refers to a state that refuses to assist the federal government and its armed agents in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
While this sounds radical, it’s actually not; it is in fact a well-settled constitutional principle that the federal government may not force state law enforcement agencies to do its bidding. In Printz v. United States, the federal government sought to enforce the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which required state law enforcement agencies to perform background checks of prospective handgun purchasers. Local sheriffs from Montana and Arizona challenged the law on the grounds it was unconstitutional to force, or “commandeer” state officers to execute federal law.
The Supreme Court ruled the Brady Act’s attempted commandeering of local law enforcement violated the 10th Amendment. The opinion, authored by none other than conservative darling Antonin Scalia, reasoned as follows:
Enactments of the early Congresses seem to contain no evidence of an assumption that the Federal Government may command the States’ executive power in the absence of a particularized constitutional authorization… The Government misplaces its reliance on portions of The Federalist suggesting that federal responsibilities could be imposed on state officers. None of these statements necessarily implies-what is the critical point here-that Congress could impose these responsibilities without the States’ consent.
He continues on to explain the concept of dual sovereignty and the impact of a policy that would require state agencies to enforce federal law:
The Framers rejected the concept of a central government that would act upon and through the States, and instead designed a system in which the State and Federal Governments would exercise concurrent authority over the people. The Federal Government’s power would be augmented immeasurably and impermissibly if it were able to impress into its service-and at no cost to itself-the police officers of the 50 States.
So apparently states rights is a big fucking deal to conservatives in selective circumstances (because they hate women and gay people), yet it’s nothing but crickets when it comes to immigration. Suddenly, the 10th amendment, constitutionalism, and small government are a distant memory. So very shocking.
Not that we should cut the liberals any degree of slack. I’ve never heard any mainstream liberal politician come out in support of completely open borders. Their calls for reform and compassion are still framed in the context of an unduly restrictive and violative immigration scheme, and thus are unrealistic and disingenuous. Essentially, they fully support ICE tearing families apart as well, just perhaps at a somewhat lower rate than conservatives (my, aren’t you the humanitarian then?!).