WASHINGTON - As the U.S. Supreme Court, meeting inside its imposing marble, white-columned building, wrestled with Arizona's racist, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant law, unionists and their allies made their stand for immigrants' rights clear outside the justices' front door.
With chants and speeches - and overcoming a small counter-protest by nativists - hundreds of people declared that come what may from the High Court's ruling by June, the unionists and their partners declared they will continue fighting until all U.S. residents, of any hue, sex or race, are treated equally in the eyes of the law.
The crowd, led by SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, vowed they would continue to crusade for the rights of workers and immigrants not just in the halls of justice but on the streets and at the ballot box. Hillary Shelton, Washington lobbyist for the NAACP, said Arizona's law reawakened the national civil rights movement.
As unionists declared their support outside, the justices, inside, sharply quizzed lawyers for Arizona and the Obama administration about the state's controversial law, SB1070. The law criminalizes anyone who looks different by ordering state and local police, if they stop a person for another offense, to immediately demand proof of legal U.S. residence. Those who can't provide it are detained and usually deported.
The administration challenged the Arizona law as an intrusion on federal sovereignty on immigration. The state claimed it was trying to enforce federal law.
The unionists and their allies outside the court had more basic points to make.
"We came to demand what is written on that building," Medina said, pointing to the inscription over the court's great front doors: "Equal Justice Under Law." Citing that, Medina declared: "We are all equal under the eyes of God and the Constitution."
The crowd wanted to remind the court "of the values that created this great country," continued Medina, himself the son of immigrants. "We want to remind the court that states don't have the right to legalize hate, states do not have the right to discriminate against us, states do not have the right legitimize xenophobia."
The court must overturn laws that encourage racial profiling, that "deny or restrict our right to vote, that attack the rights of workers," he added. But if the court didn't - and the jousting inside the courtroom between the justices and the lawyers made it clear it might not - then the people would, at the ballot box, Medina vowed. Starting this November and continuing beyond it, "We can get rid of the politicians who write these racist laws."