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Year in Review: Immigration Law, Health Care and More, Arizona-Style

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In this three-part series, legal analyst Andrew Cohen takes a look back at the year in the law. Part 1 focused on the year's most under-reported legal stories. Part 2 focused on the year's most over-reported ones. And Part 3 wraps up the package with a look at major legal events and issues.

A Grand Canyon in the Law

Lawlessness is to Arizona what horses are to Kentucky, a point of pride if not an outright industry. This was true when the place was a territory (see, e.g., Tombstone), it was true in the mid-1980s when the Arizona Outlaws played in the USFL, and it was true in 2010, when virtually every story of national consequence in the law has either originated in or been impacted by the legal strategies and priorities of elected officials in the Grand Canyon State. And true to form, in nearly each case, Arizona has thumbed its nose at federal power and authority. The Wild, Wild West, indeed.

Jan BrewerMy colleague Jill Lawrence already has homed in on the extraordinary influence Arizona has had this year on the political and cultural landscape. But nowhere is the trend more pronounced than in the law. Let's start with one of the year's top-10 legal stories -- the ferocious battle between the federal government and some of the states over immigration policy. Arizona led the charge. It's controversial immigration measure, SB 1070, requires local police to check for the immigration status of anyone stopped under "reasonable suspicion" of unlawful status. The measure has been halted by the federal courts, for now, but emboldened conservative lawmakers in other states (like Texas and Florida) are contemplating similar laws.

In the meantime, Arizona officials announced in July that Gov. Jan Brewer wouldn't meet with her Mexican counterparts (and officials from other border states) to talk about matters of common interest because the Mexican officials had boycotted a meeting scheduled in Arizona. While this was occurring, National Public Radio, Rachel Maddow and others were researching and reporting on a powerful story about the close relationship between the prison industry and the rise of the new immigration law. NPR concluded: "The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them."

Health care also was a huge national legal story this year. And there was Arizona, on the ramparts, joining in at least two separate federal lawsuits brought to challenge the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And just in case the point of that pending federal litigation wasn't clearly heard in Washington, Arizona voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that bars "any rules or regulations that would force state residents to participate in a health-care system." Brewer said: "Arizona has a long and proud history of fighting the Washington, D.C., elite's insatiable appetite for bigger government at the cost of states' rights. The battle over the Affordable Care Act better known as 'ObamaCare' is the latest round. Once again, the feds have gone too far."

Capital punishment is typically on the list of big legal stories in any given year. Although the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings about the death penalty in America, perhaps the year's most memorable story was the search by states for sodium thiopental, one of the drugs contained in the three-drug combination typically given to prisoners when they are executed by lethal injection. Evidently there is a shortage of the drug stateside because of concerns in Europe over its use in capital cases. Arizona officials managed to get some sodium thiopental -- just where, they would not disclose to a federal judge in a case that generated Supreme Court review -- and then use it on Jeffrey Landrigan. And when California officials seemed thwarted in their search for the drug, Arizona evidently stepped up and shared its stash. What are neighbors for, after all.

Although Brewer for a long time this year was the face of the state, it's fair to say that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is probably the most famous Arizona lawman around. "Sheriff Joe" was enormously popular on the speaking circuit this year -- he boasted on Twitter of giving a pink bra to Sarah Palin, for example. But he was also sued for alleged civil rights violations by the Justice Department, his office was under investigation for at least two serious matters, and the local authorities had to schedule a contempt hearing to get him to answer questions about finances. While all of this was occurring, Sheriff Joe was forming an "immigration posse," the legality of which is certainly something to watch for in 2011 and beyond.

By far the biggest Supreme Court decision of the year was Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the First Amendment case that gutted federal campaign finance laws, including Arizona Sen. John McCain's own McCain-Feingold. And here again Arizona finds itself in the thick of the fight. Like many other states, Arizona reacted to Citizens United by promptly enacting a state law requiring corporations and labor unions to disclose all "independent expenditures" to campaigns. And the Supreme Court last month accepted a challenge to Arizona's state's public campaign finance law, offering the justices another opportunity to examine the scope of the First Amendment.

Arizona's year in the law was in many ways America's year in the law. And in this fashion did Arizona thus position itself in 2010 first among equal states in the federalism battle now under way in the country. Ask me again in a year which side seems to be winning in the courts. In the meantime, even the Grand Canyon itself could not escape litigation. This past year, conservation groups and Native American tribes were in court trying to halt uranium mining just six miles from the rim.

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Tim Mendez

It seems this author is a left leaning ex-ACLU lawyer, judging from the tone of this article. I guess this is okay as most of us will come to our own conclusions. I did and I see Arizona being on the right track for every issue addressed here.

December 30 2010 at 9:08 PM Report abuse -8 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

The US has over 335 embassies and consulates around the world. People usually bring their up to date passport to the consulate office tell the clerk, usually a local, that they wish to go to the US. They are given a list of 35 visas to choose from, visitor, student, teacher, entrepreneur, part time worker, full time worker, resident, etc. Once the application is accepted and a criminal background check in their country and ours is completed they look at the quota numbers and are either accepted or rejected. Get in line or stay away the American taxpayer has been bled enough, do it right or stay where you are.

December 30 2010 at 6:14 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

The federal government does not inforce the law and sues arizonia for trying to inforce the law. How much has the government taken over in the past two years. Some one has to try to reverse what is happening in this country.

December 28 2010 at 9:39 AM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to John Vilvens's comment

billhuemme This country is founded on immigrants and immigrants who had a legal way to become citizens was why Ellis Island was a site for legal immigration. There is no such site now and all legislation is to keep immigrants out. This is not the America way. And by the way Arizona belonged to Mexico and America did not have a legal right to be there. We forcibly took Mexican land not a legal transaction.

December 28 2010 at 8:15 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to muted3's comment
John Vilvens

There are 1 million legal immigrants every year. Arizon is trying to protect its' self from the finicial problem of illegal immigrants and to protect its' people from the dangers of the drug trade. If federal government would inforce the law and quit trying to get vote this problem could be dealt with

December 28 2010 at 9:36 AM Report abuse -15 rate up rate down Reply

Go Arizona. It's good to know that at least one State is listening to the will of the people. Not to a Federal Government that Does not. Hey Arizona, just a thought but maybe you should write your law in Araibic. Then maybe our President will be able to read it.

December 28 2010 at 7:49 AM Report abuse -12 rate up rate down Reply

The Arizona Immigration law should go nationwide,no exceptions. I certainly would not back any measure to give these illegals a chance to become citizens. Illegal means against the law,they are criminals and need to be treated as such. Too many of our laws have already been trampled on by these people,why should we continue to bend one to allow them freedom at cost to us? Thier children should not get free schooling,if they give birth to a child here,it should not mean automatic citizenship for the child when the Mother is here illegally,they should not get free healthcare,they should not be able to obtain Drivers Licenses in any State and should never ever be allowed to become legal after entering illegally.We need to take our country back.

December 28 2010 at 3:29 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
L R Adams

This appears to be just the beginning of a problem that has been smoldering just beneath the surface. If the U S Government had competently been enforcing the laws that are in place. A lot of this would not have taken place. Some states are not going to acquiesce to incompetent behavior.

December 28 2010 at 2:52 AM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply

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