Soon after passage of the United States’ health care reform act, I wrote a charticle for Americas Quarterly describing the implementation of the law. Today the Supreme Court upheld the insurance reforms of the Affordable Care Act in their entirety. This means that the U.S. now in fact joins some of the other countries in the Americas (including Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico) that have sought to broaden access to health care for all—and is yet again proving how we are a leader in some of the most pressing issues confronting society in the twenty-first century.
From the beginning, it was clear that this was a political case. It was brought by Republican attorneys general and governors as a challenge to the signature achievement of a Democratic Congress. From the beginning, most legal scholars gave the lawsuit little chance of success. The majority of federal appellate courts, including distinguished conservative judges, rejected the challenges. The Supreme Court has—to its great credit—demonstrated that it remains committed to the rule of law. It is troubling that the Court used this occasion to limit the ability of the federal government to condition participation in the Medicaid program on compliance with program requirements.
The ramifications of this decision for many cooperative federal-state programs are far reaching and will be litigated for years, but may turn out to be quite limited. But in the end, this is a great day for millions of Americans who will gain access to health care because of this decision. It is time for the states and the federal government to move forward expeditiously with implementing the ACA. Thousands of lives literally depend on it.
Timothy Jost holds the Robert L. Willett Family Professorship at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and writes about health policy and law.
El Salvador has undergone various political events in the past couple of months. Political drama and institutional bickering have been present in daily news. For one, the legislative and municipal elections that took place this past March were fair and clean, while the same cannot be said about other countries in the region—namely Nicaragua. The outcome of El Salvador’s election results was bleak for the ruling Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (Farabundo Martí Liberation Front, or FMLN) party; FMLN’s largest loss was in the country’s most populous and important municipalities.
Second, the main opposition party, Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA), simply recuperated what they had historically obtained in legislative elections before the defection of 12 of their deputies in 2009. ARENA’s main win was in taking the larger, emblematic municipalities from the FMLN which are also founding shareholders of Alba Petroleos, the gasoline-importing Venezuelan joint venture with the FMLN. With these results the citizens of El Salvador confirm the country’s preference for the two larger parties.
Changes in electoral legislation allowing for independent candidates proved useless: the most voted independent candidate only obtained a little over 1,000 votes. El Salvador’s strong political party system has allowed, for the most part, defining medium-term policy agendas and a certain degree of accountability toward voters. This is unlike Guatemala, where political parties come and go—creating a real problem for the democratic process.
Unfortunately, the outgoing legislature made some nefarious decisions prior to their term coming to an end on April 30. The most troubling decision was made regarding the anticipated election of Supreme Court magistrates and specifically some magistrates in the Constitutional Tribunal. In essence, the previous President of the Supreme Court—who also heads the Constitutional Tribunal—was removed from his office by the legislature before his term was over. The reason behind the shuffle presumably responded to some decisions that the previous Tribunal had made regarding electoral reform and political parties. Civil society organizations denounced the decision to no avail.
On April 25, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Arizona, et al., v. United States, a case which questions the constitutional legality of Arizona’s restrictive SB 1070 immigration law that was passed by the state legislature in 2010. The Court, in taking up the case, jumps right into the center of a national political debate. Paul Clement, who argued against U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in last week’s equally highly charged hearings on the federal health care law, will do so again on behalf of the plaintiff.
The decision on whether to uphold the April 2011 ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which barred certain provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect, will fundamentally shape the way immigration policy is determined in the United States.
Arizona argues that a state should have the right to pass whatever measures it deems prudent—independent of how legislation will affect the historical, long-standing rights that immigrants (and those who may appear to be immigrants) have long enjoyed in this country. But in its decision last year the Ninth Circuit noted that: "The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol […] and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt."
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Links Uncovered between LatAm Cartels and Hezbollah
ProPublica examines the links uncovered by U.S. authorities between Latin American drug traffickers, Lebanese banks, and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Connections have been uncovered concerning Latin American drug trafficking profits laundered through Lebanese banks with connections to Hezbollah, as well as in cocaine shipments from South America to the Middle East and Europe. The NPR blog takes a look at the banking connections, and Slate provides an explainer to answer the question: “Why would a Mexican drug cartel selling cocaine to North America want to launder its money through Lebanon?”
Supreme Court to Decide on Arizona Immigration Law
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, in mid-2012. After the law’s passage in April 2010, the Justice Department sued against the measure, and an April 2011 federal appeals court decision prevented parts of the law from taking effect. The Supreme Court will rule on these four blocked parts of the legislation, including a section that allows police to ask for the immigration status of anyone who they believe could be in the United States illegally.
U.S. and Canada Sign Border Accord
This week, Canadian and U.S. officials agreed to “Beyond the Border,” a non-binding plan intended to reduce red tape and speed up border crossings. It would expand the NEXUS program, a membership initiative which helps “trusted” travelers cross the border more easily. It would allow Canadians changing planes in the United States to avoid having their luggage rescreened, and eases rules for business travelers. The plan would also allow for more information sharing about travelers between the two countries, which could raise privacy concerns in Canada. The Economist’s Gulliver blog notes that those who oppose the new measures “can always take solace in the fact that, as with any other government program, it could take years to be realized, even though pilot projects are slated to start this April.”
The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to review a ban against anti-immigrant legislation in Hazelton, PA. Hazelton’s infamous Illegal Immigration Relief Act of 2006 was deemed unconstitutional by Federal Judge James Munley in 2007. Last September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld most clauses of Judge Munley’s injunction, effectively shutting down the law.
The Supreme Court can order lower courts to reconsider a decision in light of a more recent high court decision. In this case, the higher court ruling to uphold key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070—namely that employers would lose their business license if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants—has led to a revision of the Hazelton law with similar penalties for employers. Ironically, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act is considered the impetus for punitive immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and across the U.S. since 2006.
But local reaction in Hazleton is mixed. In the wake of this news, one resident commented: “elected officials should bury it [Hazleton's law] , be done with it and get to work on fixing real problems.” The law has also had far-reaching social and economic consequences. Roughly half of Hazelton’s 10,000 Latinos—including its documented population—reportedly left the city due to its immigration law. The town also saw an estimated 20 percent to 50 percent drop in business in the months following its implementation, even though it was eventually blocked.
The Supreme Court decision on Hazelton’s law in many ways exemplifies the current tension at the federal and state levels over progressive versus regressive immigration policy. On the one hand, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to allow California to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. But last Thursday, the Alabama Legislature passed an Arizona-style immigration bill with a wide margin, and Georgia’s punitive immigration law goes into effect on July 1. The inconsistency of immigration law presents newfound urgency for, as well as clear challenges to, a comprehensive federal immigration policy.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled to uphold an injunction against controversial Arizona state law SB 1070. In July 2010—only a day before the law was to go into effect—the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in federal court to block six of the legislation’s toughest statutes. Monday’s ruling agreed with the DOJ’s position that immigration policy falls under federal jurisdiction and not that of individual states.
SB1070 in its original form required state law enforcement to check an individual’s immigration status while enforcing non-immigration-related laws, provided there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person may be undocumented. While the DOJ contested six of the law’s provisions, the rest went into effect on July 29, 2010, and included penalties for municipalities with more lenient approaches to undocumented immigration, as well as sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who filed a countersuit against the DOJ in February, 2011, will likely take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, because SB 1070 only affects Arizona, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, in which case the Circuit Court’s ruling would stand.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and his allies were already taking candidate-like precautions before the country’s Constitutional Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that his run for a third term would be unconstitutional.
Juan Manuel Santos, one of Uribe’s closest disciples and a former defense minister, refused to launch his campaign as long as the possibility existed of a third term for Uribe. Meanwhile, other candidates and pre-candidates for the presidency limited their campaign activity while waiting waited for the rules of the game to be set.
Hardly a few minutes after the president publicly accepted the court’s ruling, Santos launched his campaign, asking Colombians to show their support for the current administration’s policies by voting for him. The next day Santos and Uribe met in Cali, where Uribe expressed his support for Santos’ political project.
But Santos is not alone as Uribe’s top pick. The president has also offered his strong backing to Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias.
Of the many who would like to succeed Uribe, Santos and Arias are among the few who are not registered candidates. Santos is expected to be chosen by the Partido de la U at a virtual national congress on Monday. Arias is competing in the Partido Conservador’s primaries against Uribe’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom and two-time presidential candidate Noemí Sanín.