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Pearce’s ‘rule of law’ banter belies birthright-citizenship proposal

I’ve heard Russell Pearce lecture on “the rule of law” for years. In public hearings, on the phone and, lately, on just about any news channel I happen to flip past.

Other than when he’s on national television, he tends to get himself all worked up and, before you know it, starts speaking very loudly/shouting about how his whole mission regarding illegal immigration is to enforce existing laws that are otherwise being ignored.

But that was the old Russell Pearce. The new Russell Pearce is on the “juice” — not juice as in steroids, juice as in power.

Likewise, the newly elected Senate president has beefed up his legislative agenda. Instead of writing laws that require the state to pick up slack for the federal government, Pearce is champing at the bit to wipe out a 150-year-old interpretation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For months, Pearce has been working on legislation to deny citizenship to those born in Arizona to illegal immigrant parents. Details are sketchy, but that’s the gist. Press conferences on the topic have yielded few concrete answers.

The whole thing gets pretty hazy when you start asking questions. Pearce has yet to explain, for instance, whether the legislation would apply to a baby born in, say, east Mesa to a couple that included one legal resident and one illegal immigrant.

Also, which nation will claim that baby if not the U.S.?

But Pearce doesn’t seem to be concerned about how the law would play out or the problems it could cause, as long as it drives away illegal immigrants. His strategy has always been to wage a war of attrition, and he appears to be winning, judging by the reports of an exodus of Hispanics from Arizona this year.

What’s more, another round of protest-inducing immigration legislation may allow Pearce to build a lasting national profile instead of, perhaps, slipping back into the obscurity of the Arizona Legislature after 15 minutes of fame for passing SB1070.

That sort of publicity wouldn’t hurt if Pearce decides to run for Congress after the Independent Redistricting Commission redraws the state’s congressional districts next year.

Let’s just say that if I were in Pearce’s position, I might be really psyched about the possibility that the next redistricting commission will draw up a district that includes my house and a whole bunch of conservative voters in the East Valley, much like today’s 6th Congressional District.

Fortunately for Pearce, his position as Senate president allows him to choose one member of the next commission.

The position also affords him enough power to dictate which bills will and won’t move through the Legislature when the regular session begins Jan. 10. That means he’ll have a lot of power to push his birthright-citizenship legislation.

If Pearce can avoid getting crosswise with fellow Republicans over taxes or other major economic development issues, he just might see his proposal become state law.

What would happen next, though, is both exactly what Pearce says he wants and precisely what will be his biggest obstacle: a court battle. Probably several court battles.

Pearce says he wants to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is the only entity that can grant what he wants without another constitutional convention. And he believes the current slate of justices is his best bet to wipe out the interpretation of the 14th Amendment that many of us learned in elementary school.

Pearce, though, doesn’t believe being born on U.S. soil is good enough for citizenship. He says the founding fathers intended for heritage to play a role in citizenship as well as birthplace, citing long-forgotten arguments on the floor of Congress and nuances in case law.

Pearce will also argue that he’s not doing anything different than he’s always done. He views the birthright-citizenship proposal as a way to cut out a cancer that has long plagued the U.S. Constitution. He sees it as an extension of his responsibility to protect and enforce the law.

Yet this smells and tastes different than the rule-of-law fodder that Pearce has been feeding us for years. Even though I have yet to see the bill, I’m convinced that it won’t be just another SB1070. It’s going to have much bigger teeth.

And this time it’s not just Arizona. it’s going to happen in 14 different states at the same time.

— Matt Bunk is managing editor of the Arizona Capitol Times.


  1. Matt. A very good observation on Pearce. History will show that Russell Pearce will do more to drive away business opportunities in the State of Arizona with his singleminded racist agenda. Protect the border, absolutely, but Arizona needs jobs and needs leadership that can focus on Arizona, and not a personal promotion campaign. We already are stuck with one Sheriff Joe, now we have to tolerate his sidekick Speaker Rusty. Arizona deserves so much better.

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