Chief Justice Roberts backs Obama in Arizona immigration ruling
WASHINGTON, Jun 25, 2012 (Los Angeles Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Helping drive (albeit from the back seat) the Supreme Court toward what amounted to a victory for the Obama administration in the Arizona immigration case was a man often seen as one of Obama's chief antagonists at the court -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
Roberts did not write the majority opinion, but he joined without recorded reservation the strongly worded opinion of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy saying regulating immigration was the province of the federal government, as Obama has argued.
The Kennedy opinion did uphold one provision of the Arizona law, one particularly disliked by immigration activists, allowing police to check the immigration status of people they have lawfully detained for other reasons. But Kennedy described their powers in such a limited way that the law seemed relatively meaningless.
Roberts likely would have written the opinion himself, since at oral arguments he was the chief proponent of the views expounded by Kennedy, if he wasn't busy doing something else. And with just one day left in the court's term -- Thursday -- that something else could well be the court's opinion in the legal challenges to the Obama healthcare law.
Between now and Thursday there will be much speculation about whether the result in the immigration case can be used as a predictor in the much more crucial, for Obama anyway, healthcare controversy.
Some will take the immigration ruling as a sign that the moderation that Roberts showed at the beginning of his stewardship of the court will prevail in the healthcare case, leading to an Obama victory or limited defeat.
No less unreasonable would be a theory that Roberts, knowing the court would stir controversy by striking down the healthcare law, wanted the court to appear moderate by giving Obama at least a partial win on immigration.
The court has just two other decisions to hand down Thursday, a business case involving real estate settlements and an interesting free speech case asking whether Congress can make it a crime to lie about receiving military honors.
Likely after those are dispensed with, between 10 and roughly 10:15 EST, Roberts (if in fact it is Roberts) will begin to speak in the courtroom. Downstairs in the basement press room, copies of the decision will be handed to reporters simultaneously. They will madly scan the summaries provided by the court to determine which of the theories about Roberts' intentions was correct.
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