Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was a partial author of the Arizona immigration law and consults with states and cities about immigration legislation. He spoke with The Star about the Supreme Court decision. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
The Star: Who won?
It’s a victory, but a qualified victory, for the state of Arizona. The state won on the most important provision, which allows creation of a mandatory statewide policy that all law enforcement officers must, whenever they have reasonable suspicion they’re talking to an illegal alien, contact the federal government. That was the big victory.
It’s a green light for states which want to adopt identical laws. I think you’ll see Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, maybe Missouri all pursuing laws identical to the one the court upheld.
Why is that provision so important?
It maximizes the use of state and local police as force multipliers. They can be the eyes and ears of (federal) immigration enforcement.
In a broad sense, though, it seems the court said, ‘This is the federal government’s job,’ not that of state and local officials. The court threw out three provisions of the law because they interfered with federal government.
The court said the federal government has “primary” responsibility for establishing immigration law. That is absolutely the case.
But the majority opinion is nuanced. It says, ‘We’re not going to give you any bright lines, we’re going to say each case is its own inquiry as to whether it’s in conflict with federal law.’ In some respects the opinion is an invitation for more litigation.
It’s a classic Anthony Kennedy opinion. It is not an opinion that takes a firm, principled stand.
And it might give state lawmakers a chance to test the limits of the ruling.
Most state legislators are risk-averse. You’ll have state legislators literally mimicking the parts of the Arizona law upheld by the court, but where there’s uncertainty, they might pull back.
What are the political ramifications of this?
Because the opinion was divided, it probably has negligible political impact. It probably doesn’t give a huge burst of wind to the sails of either side.