Florida Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Bill McCollum criticized the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Arizona on Wednesday, even as McCollum himself has a lawsuit — along with 12 other state attorney generals — over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law in March 2010.
McCollum, at a press conference outside the state capitol on enforcement of Medicaid fraud, was asked by a reporter about the suit. “I think the amended Arizona immigration law is fine. I have no problem with it at all. I support it,” McCollum said. “With regard to the president’s challenge, I think it’s a mistake on his part. I think it’s highly political. I think this administration has failed to adequately use the laws on the books to enforce immigration, especially on the border. … I think he’s wrong. I think he’ll lose in court. I think states have the right to enforce their own laws.”
However, McCollum has said that his own lawsuit against the healthcare reform law is not political. “No politics involved with this whatsoever. … This bill is wrong.” But that lawsuit contains no references to legal precedent or Supreme Court decisions. The lawsuit contains political phrases: The healthcare law is an “unprecedented encroachment on the liberty of individuals” and an “unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states.” Yale law professor Jack Balkin, along with many legal scholars, predicted that the challenge would not hold up: “The Constitution gives Congress the power to tax and spend money for the general welfare. This tax promotes the general welfare because it makes health care more widely available and affordable. Under existing law, therefore, the tax is clearly constitutional.”
The Justice Department suit, on the other hand, is approaching the Arizona law not from a political standpoint, but through a question of federalism. The suit asserts that under the Supremacy Clause, the Arizona law is unconstitutional since the federal government enforces immigration laws. Furthermore, the law would cause federal and state law enforcement to search for possibly harmless illegal immigrants, rather than suspected criminals.
Federal courts have previously struck down state immigration laws. A federal court negated California’s Proposition 187, which would have prohibited illegal immigrants from using many services. The Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe in 1982 struck down a Texas law charging children in the country illegally tuition for public schools.
McCollum is sensitive to the question of illegal immigration. Rick Scott released an attack ad criticizing McCollum for not supporting the Arizona law. Scott’s own 527, Let’s Get to Work, also attacked him for not supporting the Arizona law, saying he’s “more liberal than you think.”