“The government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court’s majority, citing the government’s constitutional power to regulate naturalization and control relations with foreign nations. “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration,” the decision says, “but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
Texas is well aware that it is deliberately defying the Arizona decision, but it also knows that Mississippi achieved a historic win for conservatives when it defied settled law by prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks, setting the stage for the Supreme Court to then overturn Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022. The court has changed significantly since the Arizona case, largely thanks to Donald Trump, and Mr. Abbott is openly hoping the more conservative majority will discard the Arizona precedent, just as it did abortion rights.
“We think that Texas already has the constitutional authority to do this,” he said at the signing, imagining a constitutional right that doesn’t exist, “but we also welcome a Supreme Court decision that would overturn the precedent set in the Arizona case.” (In his dissent in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia laid out a path for doing so, saying he saw nothing wrong with a state exercising sovereignty over its borders and openly expressing his political feelings by saying the lack of federal enforcement would leave the states “helpless before those evil effects of illegal immigration.”)
Mr. Abbott has been doing this sort of thing since he was the Texas attorney general and found his mission in life by taking the Obama administration to court. The Texas Tribune published a helpful list of his 31 lawsuits against Washington, which included challenges to the E.P.A. on pollution rules, to an equal-employment rule that prohibited discrimination against felons, to the constitutionality of Obamacare and to rules requiring religious employers to pay for contraception. He had a mixed record, winning, losing and withdrawing suits, but victory was just a byproduct of the real point: battling the federal government at every step.
“I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home,” he said in 2012, describing his daily routine as attorney general. That kind of resistance to authority has always been a Texas thing, since copied by many other Republican imitators, but legal experts said no other state came close to Texas’ volume of lawsuits. Mr. Abbott has made it the cottage industry of Texas government, and he has never been shy about acknowledging how many millions these legal actions cost the state.