Immigration dittoheads on the Supreme Court

The first day of a big week for the third branch of government brought a ruling on Arizona's immigration law that was less than satisfying for Justice Antonin Scalia and the Rush Limbaugh wing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A five-vote majority that included Chief Justice John Roberts struck down all but one provision of the controversial statute, asserting that the federal government has preeminent authority for setting immigration policy. They did leave intact the most controversial element of Arizona's disputed law -- the mandate placed on local police to determine the immigration status of anyone detained for other violations if there is reason to suspect that person is in the country illegally -- but they ruled that taking further steps to kick undocumented persons out of the country or to keep them from seeking work or require that they carry documentation of citizenship are not powers allocated to the states.

Justice Scalia scoffed at this. In light of the Obama administration's recent decision not to enforce immigration laws against young people brought into the country by their parents, Mr. Scalia said it is "mind boggling" to think states are prohibited from doing the job that the federal government is failing to do.

Right wing radio's Rush Limbaugh was quick to speak up in support of Justice Scalia, employing the same distinctive characterization of the majority decision. "It boggles the mind," Mr. Limbaugh echoed. "All Arizona did was write a law that mirrors the federal law that Obama was not enforcing."

On this, as on all other issues, Mr. Limbaugh has his loyalists who agree with everything he says. He calls them "dittoheads." Mr. Scalia, too, has his dittoheads. They are the two justices who joined him in dissent on the Arizona ruling, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The three are the unwavering conservative block on the court, usually joined by Chief Justice Roberts and occasionally by the perpetual swing voter, Anthony Kennedy.

Those five did band together on another ruling Monday, overthrowing a 100-year old Montana statute that put limits on corporate donations to political campaigns. The venerable law was put in place back in the days when copper kings and robber barons bought and sold politicians like hogs at auction. But the law was found to be in conflict with the court's notorious Citizens United ruling from 2010 that has turned American politics into a shopping mall for big corporations and billionaires.

It is interesting that, while Mr. Scalia defended the right of states to conduct their own immigration policies to keep their people safe from alien border crossers, states' rights did not count for much in his campaign finance deliberation. There, he reasoned that the political interests of billionaires supersed the duty of the state of Montana to protect its citizens from the corrupting influence of monied interests.

Justice Scalia's comments about President Obama's shift in immigration enforcement clearly indicate he does not sequester himself in an ivory tower far from the roar of current politics. He knows what is going on. He certainly knows that Citizens United has already had a dramatic impact on the 2012 campaign by sharply tilting the flow of campaign dollars toward the kind of candidates Rush Limbaugh favors.

Apparently, that is a result that does not in the least disturb Antonin Scalia and his dittoheads on the high court.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to to see more of his work.

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