Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Editorial: Federal, state laws keep butting heads

The unnamed Courier editor is confused: While the feds have struck down such laws in other states, why has Arizona's voter-ID law stood for years, yet we continue to have federal lawnforcement threatening to come after our medpot growers and even state employees? In standard conservative fashion, he seeks a simple answer to a complex question, and in so doing shows only surface understanding of pretty much everything he's talking about here.
    First, placing the two laws in the same category because they were both passed by initiative is completely fallacious. The courts look at the content and effects of a given law, not how it was written.
    Using Voter ID as a yardstick for a clean law remains an open question. The legal challenge to it is still in the works at the Ninth Circuit, which took oral arguments on it last June. So we have "the feds" challenging both laws. The contrast doesn't hold up.
    Looking to history, it was action by individual states that finally broke the back of Prohibition. That's what's happening now, albeit more slowly and incrementally, with medical cannabis laws. With this sort of progressive movement, surviving court challenge is partly the point.
    Regressive moves like Voter ID, on the other hand, are political tactics designed to help win elections by playing on voter fears. Those who truly understand the law on both sides of the political spectrum know that these are temporary structures that will eventually fall under legal scrutiny.Arizona's version of Voter ID has not fallen as fast as those in Texas and South Carolina because it is not as draconian, that's all. You have to look at the details.
    The real guffaw moment in the piece is here, though: "State elections officials should be more diligent before initiatives go to the ballot, vetting conflicts with federal law." This seems to be criticizing the medpot initiative, which was very carefully and extensively drawn, and the Secretary of State for allowing it to go forward. Like he had a choice. As established in the Arizona constitution, initiatives written in crayon on the back of a bar napkin in five minutes can become unassailable law with the consent of the voters. "Elections officials" can have no part in writing, editing or "vetting" initiatives, only in determining that they properly jump the legal hoops to get on the ballot.
     This in the context of our state legislators constantly writing and voting for new laws designed only to give the middle finger to clear and established federal law, stuff their own lawyers tell them will never fly.
    It looks like the editor really just wants things to be easy. Easy to do, easy to understand, easy to forget about. That choice isn't on the table, I'm afraid. Democracy is difficult, requiring that we pay attention.