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What They REALLY Mean
Should Arizona Secede?
July 8, 2012
How much does one state have to take?
Arizona, struggling to fend off illegal aliens overrunning its largely unprotected border with Mexico, passes a strict anti-illegal immigration measure in 2010 designed in part to grant state and local law enforcement the authority to assist the federal government in identifying trespassers; the Justice Department responds by filing suit against the state. The suit reaches the Supreme Court, which in recent days has held much, but not all, of Arizona's law unconstitutional on grounds so outrageous they would seem to preclude a state's right to help enforce any federal crime at all. Further, the one section the Court upholds -- Arizona's right to check immigration papers during routine police inquiries -- is effectively nullified 24 hours later when ICE, the federal immigration enforcement agency, refuses its cooperation to Arizona and declares it will ignore all such referrals.
In the background another battle looms: the Justice Department is preparing to sue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the face of local illegal immigration enforcement in Arizona in recent years and sheriff of this Arizona county since 1993, for refusing to work with Justice to conduct what it calls "constitutional" stops and checks.
These events, when coupled with the image of President Barack Obama standing over Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on a tarmac in her state, telling her off over, of all things, characterizations she made about him in her then-months-old book, have created at best an air of hostility between the state of Arizona and the United States government. And in the parent/child relationship between the two -- as upheld by the Supreme Court in its recent rulings on Arizona's immigration law -- Arizona finds itself in an unenviable position with a choice to make: 1) back down from a bullying federal government and fall into line; 2) wait out the problem and hope for a friendlier administration as soon as 2013; or 3) consider the unthinkable: find a path to secede from the United States.
The latter may sound crazy, but is secession for Arizona truly unthinkable? For many it is: secession is such a foreign concept that it harkens many back only to history books about the Civil War and is, in no other way, even comprehensible. Truth be told, only just before the Civil War era did states ever try it with bluster, and the movement ended, of course, in years of bloodshed and destruction and, as important, it ended in failure. All of those states that seceded returned to the Union, and in the 150 years since then the federal government has grown exponentially in power, influence, and supremacy over the very states that created it.
This is once again a time of "war" -- though so far just one of words, policy, and economics -- between an all-powerful federal government and all of those states which won't quietly follow its lead, and so Arizona is far from alone. Alabama and South Carolina are in legal battles with the federal government over immigration laws as well. Texas is fighting the government over EPA regulations. Then there's health care, as 26 states sued the federal government over Obamacare -- a national health initiative imposing strict rules on insurance companies and numerous requirements on states to facilitate more widespread health insurance coverage via expansion of Medicaid and the creation of state-run health insurance exchanges. The Supreme Court slapped back, upholding the most controversial parts of Obamacare, leaving the states with few options and plenty of angst. As if this weren't enough, the Justice Department has injected itself into several states' passage of something as innocuous as simple voter ID laws -- those which mandate that voters present identification at the polls -- challenging their constitutionality. The highest profile case resides in Florida, where the Justice Department is pursuing legal action against the state for conducting a state-wide voter roll purge with the express intent of eliminating dead and ineligible registrants. Despite pressure from Justice, Florida has refused to back down, and a federal judge just recently upheld Florida's right to continue its purge. Is this battle over? Hardly. And the relationship between the state of Florida and the federal government today is, by any measure, not friendly.
Arizona, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina: four states involved in legal wranglings with the Justice Department. Other states may find themselves targets soon enough: even Pennsylvania, a normally friendlier northeastern state with Democratic leanings, recently passed voter ID legislation that could attract attention from this Justice Department. 26 states have stood up to the federal government over Obamacare -- and were slapped right back down by the Supreme Court. What's going on? Why is the federal government so intent on bullying numerous states into compliance and complacency? And what recourse do these states have?
The possible explanations are, of course, all just conjecture, but the federalist balance of power is clearly in play here, and the high-profile cases in Arizona are ground zero for more battles that lie ahead. Should Arizona explore a secession plan? Should Arizona secede from the Union, knowing the risks and the possible outcomes that belie it and the rest of the country? Would other states follow Arizona in secession? While the outcomes of all these conflicts are not clear, one thing is: what Arizona does in the next several years, so will other states, and the chaos that may ensue could well compare to the type of Civil War that, so far, we've all just read about.