Arizona’s Controversial Laws: A Crash Course

Arizona lawmakers are continuing their push this week to deny automatic citizenship to children of illegal immigrants. Senator Ron Gould (R-AZ) recently called off the vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee because he believed the bill would have been defeated, but more receptive legislators are expected to again take up the agenda this week. The goal is to force the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider whether the 14th Amendment truly guarantees citizenship to such children. Under proposed legislation, children with at least one parent who has legal status would be defined as citizens of Arizona and the United States. The state also would seek permission from Congress to create distinct birth certificates for children who are eligible for citizenship and those who are not. The state's questioning of the U.S. Constitution has sparked a heated debate, and is just the latest in a litany of controversial legal maneuvers keeping Arizona in the headlines.

Among them:


The contentious law whose objective is to drive out illegal immigrants from Arizona catapulted the state into the national spotlight last year and also attracted various legal challenges, protests, boycotts and copycat legislation in other states. The Obama administration sued Arizona in July on grounds that the federal government has the exclusive right to enforce immigration laws. A judge has put on hold key provisions of the law, which gives more power to local and state police to investigate the legal status of people they question. Arizona filed a countersuit against the federal government last week, but an appellate court has yet to rule on SB 1070. Signing the measure into law in April 2010 revived Gov. Jan Brewer’s moribund bid to continue in her post— which she inherited after her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, left for Washington—and got the former Arizona secretary of state elected governor in her own right in November. The force behind the law is Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, now the president of Arizona’s state senate and a long-standing proponent of tough immigration laws.


Less than a month after signing SB 1070, the governor gave her stamp of approval to legislation intended to eliminate ethnic studies in Arizona schools as of Jan. 1. The law, specifically aimed at the Tucson Unified School District, bans classes that promote the overthrow of the United States government and resentment toward a race or class of people. Former Arizona schools superintendent Tom Horne declared the program in violation of the law before taking his next job as Arizona attorney general. His successor, John Huppenthal, is conducting his own investigation into the district’s Mexican American Studies program that critics contend is racially divisive and supporters say boosts student achievement.


Already one of the most liberal states when it comes to gun laws, Arizona is considering legislation that would allow people to carry firearms into government buildings, including college campuses, and various public events. The plans have drawn sharp criticism in the aftermath of the Jan. 8 Tucson shooting that left six people dead and 13 others wounded,
including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. But gun-rights advocates have strong allies in a Republican-controlled state legislature and a champion in Brewer, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment that protects people’s right to bear arms.


A “birther” bill that failed to pass last year is making a comeback. The measure is intended to allow on the state’s ballot only presidential and vice-presidential candidates who can provide documented proof that they were born in the United States. The proposed legislation comes in response to persistent claims that President Obama was born in Kenya, his father’s country of origin, despite confirmation from fact-checking groups that he was born in Hawaii.


If Arizona lawmakers have it their way, members of the state legislature will have the authority to annul federal laws. Proposed legislation would allow a committee of 12, half from the House and the other half from the Senate, to recommend to the full legislature laws that they believe the state should disregard. Although constitutional scholars say the effort is futile, they view
Arizona’s continued defiance of the federal government as the state’s way of trying to assert some level of independence from federal control.