Proposition 187 has finally been released from its purgatory in federal district court and now can work its way through the appellate system, where its chances of success are far better. U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer served her cohorts well and delayed the "Save Our State" initiative as long as possible. But her final ruling reveals a curious logic that betrays her political agenda at last.
Three years ago, she blocked 187's prohibition of public benefits for illegal immigrants, alleging a conflict with federal law. In response to that injunction, the legal team defending 187 assisted Congress in drafting new laws on welfare reform and illegal immigration. Both bills were crafted specifically to enhance 187's implementation. But Pfaelzer superseded Congress with her own legislation from the bench.
People are frustrated by judicial partisanship. They regard the usurpation of legislative power by the judiciary as a corruption of the Constitution. If left unattended, their legitimate anger will further erode public confidence in the legal system in particular and respect for the law in general.
To restore people's confidence, Congress should pass judicial reform legislation. An important step in that direction has been offered by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) His House resolution would bring the judiciary back into line with the intent of the Constitution's framers. It also incorporates important provisions from a bill introduced last year by the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Palm Springs).
In 1994, Bono served as the Riverside County chairman for the "Save Our State" campaign. Like most Californians, he was outraged that one federal judge could block the will of the people for personal and partisan reasons. In defense of Proposition 187, he wrote legislation commonly called the "three judge panel" bill to protect ballot initiatives from such abuses. Bono's three-judge panel would have discouraged "judge shopping," an egregious practice by which special interests search for "friendly" judges who will support their claims regardless of the merits. Judge shopping has undermined the integrity of the courts. Bono's bill also would have required the courts to complete their reviews of initiatives within one year, preventing the kind of delaying tactics that have been used against Proposition 187, approved by voters in 1994 and held up in court since then.
Passing Bono's judicial reforms would be a fitting tribute to a man who got involved in politics for the purpose of fighting the abuse of power in government. I know how he felt. Four years ago, I called together a group of immigration experts to assist in drafting an initiative to control one of the most abusive problems in California, illegal immigration. My purpose was to draw public attention to an issue that the political establishment was avoiding.
After Proposition 187 qualified for the ballot, the politicians finally got involved, but not always with the best of intentions. The Democratic Latino Caucus was the first to use Proposition 187 as a "wedge issue." Hoping to win support for left-wing causes from generally conservative Latinos, they played the race card. But their early efforts failed to win over a population that studies now show suffers more from illegal immigration than any other.
The Latino Caucus eventually would celebrate the decision by Gov. Pete Wilson to make Proposition 187 the cornerstone of his reelection campaign. Six weeks before the election and still trailing Kathleen Brown by 20 points, he took their bait. With commercials erroneously focusing on the Mexican border, he succeeded in bringing race into the campaign. The Republican Party still is paying for his mistake, and cynical Democrats are exploiting the social divisions he caused.
But the Democrats don't have clean hands on this issue. They've forgotten their promise to control the employment of illegal immigrants, and by their deliberate inaction, they're helping to build an underclass of exploited workers entering the country illegally. Not surprisingly, Democratic politicians take contributions from the same corporate interests that profit from illegal labor.
A skeptical public should continue to be wary of politicians and jealously guard its right to the initiative process. Supporting judicial reforms in Congress will help to protect that process.
Proposition 187 focused national attention on illegal immigration and pressured Congress into action. And as it continues to work its way through the legal system, its supporters can take satisfaction in the reforms that it is causing along the way.