In an interview with Fox News Latino yesterday, George W. Bush’s former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales echoed the Obama Justice Department’s legal case against SB 1070, explaining that immigration policy must be handled exclusively by the federal government:
GONZALES: The real story here is not what Arizona and other states like Alabama are doing. The real story is the failure of the federal government to deal with immigration policy. In a perfect world, these states wouldn’t be passing these kinds of laws. Congress and the President would work together, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. We have failed in that respect, and that’s why you see laws like Arizona’s.
I understand the controversy. It’s a very controversial law. I think it’s generally unpopular within the Hispanic community, and probably has been harmful to the Republican Party. We’ll see what the court says. My own view, going into the arguments, was that immigration is an area that’s been preempted by the federal government, and the states do not have the authority. But the arguments did not go very well. I think most court observers would say that the court seemed rather hostile to the government’s position. So we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Gonzales is right that Congress failed to enact the comprehensive immigration reform America should have, but the blame for that rests largely on a rump within Gonzales’ own party. President Bush, to his credit, supported a comprehensive immigration bill that enjoyed the support of top Democrats such as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), but the bill died in large part due to opposition from a right-wing bloc led by Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Subsequent attempts to pass less comprehensive reform under President Obama failed due to filibusters conducted almost entirely by Republicans.
As Gonzales’ comment demonstrates, however, today’s near-unanimous Republican opposition to immigration reform is a fairly new development — beginning largely with the dawn of the Obama Administration. For this reason, it’s unfortunate that the current Supreme Court fight over state immigration laws did not occur while Republicans still controlled the Justice Department. Although there is no way to know for sure whether the Roberts Court would have been more sympathetic to the federal government’s position if the exact same argument had been made by a Republican, the Court’s increasingly partisan nature suggests that some of the justices might have been less moved by Arizona’s arguments if those claims were not also the established view of the GOP.