Bringing legal topics to life, either on the stage or screen, takes a special ability. On this Change of Venue Friday, I recommend to you two such endeavors.

The first is a terrific staging of the classic book To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

If you’ve never been to the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert, it’s worth the drive. All of its shows are performed in the round, which lends them a sense of intimacy with the audience.

And this production is directed by the great playwright and actor D. Scott Withers. Performances run through June 30.

More information and a link to ticket sales are here.

And here is more information and history about the Hale Theatre concept, “believed to be the longest, continuously-operating center stage theatre in the country.”

Meanwhile, up in Phoenix, there is a documentary screening that takes us to more modern legal battles.

“Two Americans” screens this coming Monday, June 18 at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. It is being brought to Phoenix by No Festival Required (see what they’re up to here). More detail on the film is here and here.

Here is a trailer for the documentary.

The filmmakers state that opposing viewpoints will be displayed in the documentary, so I look forward to seeing how they achieve that. Here is how they describe their work:

“The life of a 9-year old child is forever changed when ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff’ arrests her Mexican parents for working at a local carwash. Fighting to rescue her parents from deportation, Katherine Figueroa becomes the poster child of a movement to oust Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio from office. Exposed by the media, Kathy’s family is challenged to overcome their fear of living in Arizona. But when Sheriff Joe uses his power to retaliate against the County Board, it’s the legality of his actions that is questioned. Now the Sheriff’s fate hangs in the balance of an FBI criminal probe.

“Enter the heart of an American family living in the shadows of a state that has criminalized their existence. Walk in the shoes of a public official who has won enormous political gains by incarcerating ‘illegals’ as he stares down criminal charges of his own. Kathy needs her family. Joe needs the power of his badge. ‘Two Americans’ will examine the very personal impact of U.S. immigration policies.

“In a Nation home to over 5 million American children who live in unauthorized immigrant families, Arizona has led the way in the emergent practice of using local police to enforce federal immigration law. But who wins when State laws deter employers from participating in the local economy, the labor pool evaporates, and 35% of the city’s population are viewed with suspicion? An American public that does not feel the direct impact overlooks these very troublesome consequences. This documentary will allow viewers to experience the issue from opposing viewpoints and draw their own conclusions.”

You can buy tickets at the door, or in advance here.

Have a great weekend, and I hope to see you Monday night.

Were you seeking one last SB1070 event before the Supreme Court hears argument this Wednesday on Arizona’s controversial immigration law? If so, this evening is for you.

Head over to the ASU Cronkite School at 6:00 tonight for a MALDEF panel on the law and its repercussions. Here is all the detail from the group.

Speakers will Discuss Upcoming Supreme Court Oral Arguments and Other Pending Lawsuits

PHOENIX, AZ – MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz will speak alongside a distinguished panel of legal scholars and advocates at a major forum discussing upcoming oral arguments before the Supreme Court in State of Arizona v. U.S., the federal government’s case against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for Wednesday, April 25, 2012.

MALDEF and a coalition of civil rights organizations have been at the forefront of the battle to challenge all of the discriminatory and unconstitutional provisions in SB 1070.

WHAT: Major Forum on upcoming Supreme Court oral arguments in State of Arizona v. U.S., the federal government’s case against anti-immigrant law SB 1070. Presentation and discussion will include: the major arguments from either side; impact on other pending lawsuits against SB 1070; amicus briefs; the make-up of the court; and other FAQs.

WHO: Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and Counsel, will be in attendance.

Also speaking will be: Dan Pochoda, ACLU of Arizona; Evelyn Cruz, Arizona State University Law Professor; Crystal Lopez, DLA Piper; and Daniel Ortega, Ortega Law Firm.

WHEN: Monday, April 23, 2012, 6–8 p.m.

WHERE: Cronkite School of Journalism, ASU Downtown Campus, Cronkite Theater, 555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85004

MALDEF: Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. 

For more information on MALDEF, please visit here.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

In major Supreme Court cases, it’s useful to have a scorecard. And that’s just what Erwin Chemerinsky provides in regard to SB1070.

Arizona’s own criminal–immigration law hybrid is examined by the UC-Irvine law dean in the ABA Journal. And his insights get right to the heart of the case being watched carefully by legal scholars, lawyers, politicians and even police departments. What do you think SCOTUS will do with the case? Let me know your thoughts at

You may recall that we published a Q&A with Dean Chemerinsky in our February Arizona Attorney Magazine. As he told us then, “So often discussions of federalism have focused on the scope of Congress’s power. But federalism also is about the extent to which federal law preempts state law. Arizona’s immigration laws, include SB 1070, focus attention on this.” (Our Q&A preceded his delivery of the annual ASU John Frank Lecture.)

In the ABA Journal, Chemerinsky examines some of the disagreements between the parties, which includes the State of Arizona:

“It is striking that the briefs of Arizona and the United States disagree about everything that is before the court. First, the two sides disagree as to the context in which the court should approach the case. Arizona begins its brief with a long section on “illegal immigration’s disproportionate impact on Arizona.” It spends the first seven pages of its brief describing the effect of illegal immigration on Arizona in terms of crime, government benefits and employment.

“By contrast, the brief for the United States begins with a long section describing “the comprehensive federal immigration framework.” The United States brief begins with almost eight pages describing the detailed system of federal immigration regulation.

“This difference is not coincidental. Arizona wants the justices to see this case from the perspective of a state dealing with a serious problem and acting to protect itself and its citizens. The United States wants the justices to view this matter as involving an area which is traditionally and inherently under the control of the federal government.

“Second—and surprisingly—the two sides disagree about the standard the court should use when deciding whether federal law pre-empts state law. Arizona repeatedly states that in the absence of an express preemption provision in a federal law, a state law is preempted only if there is a conflict between federal and state law. Its brief states: “The bottom line is that there is no preemption unless state law conflicts with some identifiable federal statute.” Arizona argues that there is no conflict between SB 1070 and federal law; its primary argument is that SB 1070 is using the resources of state and local law police to supplement and enhance federal efforts.

“The United States, though, says that a conflict between federal law and state law is not required for preemption; there is preemption if a state or local government interferes with achieving a federal objective. It sees Arizona’s law as doing this. The United States contends that inevitably decisions about immigration enforcement implicate issues of foreign policy and that is in the sole domain of the national government. The United States relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s 1942 decision, Hines v. Davidowitz, which said that immigration enforcement necessarily implicates “important and delicate” considerations of foreign policy and that therefore states cannot “contradict” or “complement” federal immigration efforts.”

Keep reading here.

Introduction to our Q&A, Arizona Attorney Magazine, February 2012

Ariz. Senate President Russell Pearce

As I write this, Election Day is ticking away its last minutes. Among all the results, both surprises and their opposite, it’s looking very much like we won’t have Russell Pearce to kick around anymore.

As the Arizona Daily Star reported late last night:

“Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce—architect of some of the nation’s toughest state laws against illegal immigration—was ousted by voters Tuesday in an unprecedented recall.

“Results late Tuesday showed challenger Jerry Lewis, a political newcomer, with a 53-to-45 percent margin over Pearce in his east Mesa district. Both are Republicans. A small percentage also cast ballots for Olivia Cortes, although she withdrew from the race.

“Pearce conceded defeat, saying he is disappointed and will spend some time ‘with my family and my God’ before deciding what to do next. He has not ruled out another run—including to get his seat back.”

God wasn’t available for comment. But you can read the whole story here.

There were many twists and turns in this race, but at its heart, there was no more “legal” election battle this year. The Senate President may have disputed it, but SB1070 and its fellow immigration laws were all over this race.

The ouster of Russell Pearce likely pleases or dismays many Arizona lawyers, whose opinions on immigration and a great many other things are very diverse. But for me, the surprise in the race was farther down the tote board.

252 votes for Olivia Cortes.

Who? Oh, yes, that Olivia Cortes. The one caught up in allegations that she was a sham candidate whose sole purpose was to draw votes away from Jerry Lewis and therefore to help Russell Pearce.

The tale of the tape

Well, if that was the plan, it didn’t work very well. But her inclusion on the ballot still garnered some support, long after interminable news stories documented her lack of genuine commitment to public service and to this race.

Who are those 252 people, you have to wonder?

I will grant her this: Her family probably supported her with their votes. I mean, even if my mom were a sham candidate running for town council back in Poughquag, N.Y., I’d still be inclined to cast my vote her way. Sham or not, family’s family.

So let’s give Olivia the credit of 10, no, 20, hell, let’s say 50 family votes.

Given that, who are those 202 other people who voted for a woman who had formally withdrawn after having barely been in the race to start with? A woman with no positions, no record, no political accomplishments? Someone whose withdrawal opportunely came immediately before a scheduled candidate debate and a court hearing that would have put her “supporters” on record under oath?

I am inclined to search out those 200 or so voters and to ask them to leave the state. Just leave.

At the very least, those voters should be included in a list of potential jurors who are unaware of and unswayed by news stories.

Happy Election Day-after.

Lady Gaga in Phoenix, July 2010

News stories this week described how a song on the eagerly awaited Lady Gaga album “Born This Way” goes after SB1070, Arizona’s own criminal–immigration hybrid.

Should musicians come to Arizona, or should they honor a boycott launched by Sound Strike in protest of 1070? I’ve written about various responses to that question here and here.

As the inception of the law recedes into the distance, that is likely to be a less and less interesting question—unless and until higher courts allow implementation of the law, and then all bets are off.

Until that happens, responses like Gaga’s are where the news is—engaging, rather than boycotting. Many in Arizona may wonder how much effect its laws have outside our borders. But hearing from an international music star, as she takes up an entire track of a new album to comment on our home-grown debate, is a rousing reminder of the porosity of borders—in a musical if not immigration way.

Here is a video of Gaga performing the song “Americano” on the album “Born This Way.” (Video was by a fan at her concert in Guadalajara.)

C-Fu Gourmet in Chandler, Arizona, is known to have some of the best dim sum in the state (some say it’s the best). And that may be the ideal location for the Arizona Asian American Bar Association annual banquet. For dim sum stands for the proposition that people enjoy the opportunity to have little plates of a variety of things. Even if something is not to your taste, wait a minute and another plate will be by.

Kind of like diversity. There is value to variety, even if you don’t partake in everything.

(I wrote about the Asian American Bar banquet and C-Fu before, here and here.)

So what makes the multiple-plates approach especially appropriate for the Asian Bar’s annual dinner? It is their selection of entertainment and keynote speakers for this evening. It’s a veritable stir-fry.

The entertainment will be partly provided by a Canadian American lawyer known most recently for his distaste for a focus on “hyphenated Americans.” Tom Horne, now the Attorney General of Arizona, took on the ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District when he was Superintendent of Public Instruction—a battle that continues. He has since been one of the biggest supporters of Arizona’s own melding of criminal and immigration law, in the form of SB1070.

Tom Horne, Arizona Attorney General

Ladies and gentlemen, the Asian American Bar gives you … Tom Horne on piano! (You’ll see I omitted the hyphen.)

Not sure you’ll partake? Well, wait just a few minutes, because the keynote speaker is coming to the stage. He is an accomplished California American lawyer who is the President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. He and APALC are known most recently for their distaste for SB1070. In fact, APALC has been a leader in organizing plaintiffs and challenging the law.

On keynote duties, we have … Stewart Kwoh!

(Full disclosure: (1) My wife is on the board of the Arizona chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League; the national association is a plaintiff. (2) As a young California lawyer, I worked along with APALC on a large-scale immigration case regarding Thai workers. I have met Mr. Kwoh but do not know him well.)

Does each know the other will be there? Would either be pleased or dismayed? If they were asked, really nicely, to sing a duet, would they?

The Asian American Bar may have dipped farther into the combination plates than they would have liked. As word began to emerge about the evening’s pianist, Asian American community members voiced their upset. They had worked hard against the law, and hearing the ivories tickled by its advocate was not their idea of a good time. Some people who have attended before have refused to attend. And some community associations may have opted not to purchase a table.

I spoke with a leader of Los Abogados about the developments. That association of Hispanic lawyers has been vocal in its opposition to SB1070. Was it disturbed that a sister bar would invite one of the law’s most prominent defenders, even if only for a musical interlude?

Stewart Kwoh, Asian Pacific American Legal Center

The Los Abogados leader was extremely polite about the affair. He acknowledged that many were surprised at the news. But he said it had led to extensive and productive conversations with the Asian Bar leadership. He said that Los Abogados had stressed that, despite popular belief, SB1070 is not a “Hispanic” issue; instead, the group sees it as a civil-rights issue that affects everyone.

Would Los Abogados be purchasing a table? No, the leader said, but they did not purchase one every year anyway. And individual Los Abogados members may be purchasing for themselves.

I will be there tonight, and I expect I’ll take some photos and maybe even some video of the musical entertainment. More to come.

In the meantime, pass the noodles.

Last June, I wrote about a growing national boycott of Arizona by musicians in response to its passage of SB1070, our immigration-criminal law. The boycott was organized by Sound Strike, a coalition of musicians.

This week, we learned that Arizona activist (and possible Phoenix mayor candidate) Kimber Lanning landed a national convention of the Alliance of Independent Media Stores. One of the headliners will be the band Calexico.

To read Kimber’s letter imploring support for the February event, go here (or scroll to the bottom of this post).

For more on the story from the Republic, go here.

Here’s Kimber’s letter:

My friends,


I have worked to secure the national convention of music industry professionals here in Phoenix from Feb 2-6. We will have about 100 folks in town from around the country and we’re trying to put a good face on Arizona. Six months ago, the organizers were considering boycotting Arizona, but we convinced them to come by outlining several concerts that would be a tribute to our Latino culture and heritage, which they are all very excited to see.

Calexico is my favorite Arizona band of all time ( and that’s saying a lot since I’ve been in this business for 25 years. They do a wonderful job combining indie rock with Mariachi and their live show is simply amazing. We are doing the show at Corona Ranch (, which if you haven’t been is truly a hidden gem here in town – at the base of South Mountain, it’s everything we are proud of here in Arizona. Opening the show will be Sergio Mendoza with Salvador Duran ( and Mariachi Pasion (

I am asking all of my friends to please, please grab your partner, your family and friends, and come help us celebrate Arizona heritage with our guests from around the country. Calexico, as you may know, is very, very close to Gabby Giffords, and this will be their first appearance after the horrors in Tucson. We need to come together as Arizonans to celebrate and to heal.

If you only see one show this year, please let this be the one.

Friday, February 4th, 7 PM, tickets are available here or at Stinkweeds, Hoodlums, or Zia.

Lastly, a percentage of the proceeds will be going to Ear Candy Charity, an organization working to put musical instruments into the hands of children, which we hope will teach them compassion and tolerance. Music is the universal language, after all.

Thanks in advance, for your presence.

Kimber Lanning

P.S. please help me spread the word by inviting others I may not know who appreciate the importance of this occasion.

Rep. Luis Garcia, Florida, speaks (without his passport)

Recent Arizona events have shined the nation’s attention on the Grand Canyon State. And amidst that focus, it’s been easy to forget the country’s recent fixation with Arizona’s main industry: immigration news.

SB1070 may have many far-reaching effects. But one effect that is too little noticed is its conveyance of a “word windfall” to columnists, reporters and bloggers. And once the past week’s tragic events fade into memory, I am certain those writers will return their attention to the article-giving bosom of our state’s immigration regime.

In the past year, we’ve seen how much other states enjoy using Arizona, either as a cautionary tale or as a shining beacon of reverse-immigration (“Keep your tired, and your poor, and your huddled masses …”).

One sign that we remain the undisputed champion of state exemplars comes out of Florida this week. That state, like others, is considering enacting laws similar to Arizona’s (who said we don’t export anything?). It’s reported that a Florida state legislator has taken to wearing his passport to the lawmakers’ chamber. He wants to make the point that his Latino heritage is important, but his American citizenship should not be questioned.

The passport as a fashion and legal accessory—that could be the new big thing.

And for those of you traveling to our fair state who may have some concern about how welcome you will be, there are services that can apply for and procure your passport—fast. At least one service cites Arizona’s law as a reason to hire them.

So fear not. The attention of Americans may be fickle and fleeting, and our mild-mannered gun laws may occupy them for the moment. But to their minds, we remain, more than anything else, the “Show Us Your Papers” State.

Minneapolis protest against Arizona immigrant law SB 1070 (Wikimedia Commons, Author Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA)

SB1070 is said to bring out the venom. But in some ways, it brings out the saccharine.

I was out of the office Thursday last week for Veterans Day. And that’s why I had to miss a panel discussion on Arizona’s polarizing immigration–criminal statute. It was hosted by the Phoenix School of Law and was titled “SB1070: Its Beginnings to Its Future.”

Pretty generic stuff—from the title onward, they sought not to alienate anyone scattered along the political spectrum.

And then in the press announcement, I caught two interesting points:

1.Event is NOT open to the general public.

Yes, it was underlined and in red.

Odd, I thought, that a discussion touching on a matter of massive public interest would be open to law students and media only.

The second unique feature came next:

2. “Discussion is expected to be academic and an opportunity to be the ‘voice of reason’ on what has become a polarized piece of legislation.”

I cannot remember the last time event organizers sought to increase attendance by reassuring potential attendees that the occasion would be “academic” and devoid of controversy.

But then I remembered, That’s not entirely true. The last time I saw the same behavior was … the last time a conference on SB1070 was held.

ASU Law School’s October 8 conference will be the focus of a short item we are running in the December issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine (mailed this week). But those conference leaders, like their counterparts at Phoenix Law, also sought repeatedly to douse any flames of partisanship or controversy. Attendees were assured, more than once, that they were committed to looking at the law and its effects, reasonably and rationally. They would leave aside any protests and hysterics.

As if protest and hysteria are the same thing.

I have some sympathy for that approach, because I have participated in just that kind of firestorm-avoidance therapy.

Last April, I moderated a panel discussion on SB1070. The organizers who asked me to play the role were almost painfully committed to a discussion that was reasoned and drained of any of the anger that can be felt almost everywhere in Arizona—outside academic discussions.

In at least two of these panel discussions, the participants were largely people who were opposed to SB1070 (as I did not attend the Phoenix Law event, I can’t claim a sweep). But they worked mightily to preserve the impression that there was a huge space between academics who largely opposed the law and street protestors who did the same.

I draw two tentative conclusions about this strange dynamic.

1. Based on the results of this month’s elections, there is a difference between those who stand by their partisan rabble-rousers who stake out perhaps peripheral positions that may be occasionally discourteous and loud—and those who distance themselves from those obstreperous protestors and act like they may have stepped in dog feces. There is a difference between people who understand that their grassroots base may be noisy but helpful, and those who think that the base must be discarded and dissed because elections are won in university lecture halls.

They are called, respectively, Republicans and Democrats. Or, if you’d like, winners and losers.

One group views its base as passionate activists, and the other sees them as hysterical discontents.

2. It is easy to mistake passion for hysteria, as women’s history makes clear. My wife and I just saw a play that demonstrates that in a vibrant way. “In the Next Room (Or the Vibrator Play),” by Sarah Ruhl, is a Tony Award-nominated play that is “a comedy about marriage, intimacy and electricity.” It shows behaviors that some of its Victorian characters view as deranged and even hysterical. The period piece shows that many behaviors were commonly acknowledged to be better ignored and marginalized.

Of course, we laugh now at that misguided approach, which led to entire generations that ignored women’s contributions. If this year’s election lends any lesson, it may be a reminder that ignoring the colorful and passionate side of yourself is not the path to success—of a person, a society, or a party.

I suppose you could say that Dr. Cornel West stopped by Phoenix the other day to talk about SB1070.

In the same way that Abe Lincoln dropped by Gettysburg to chat about troop movements, or President John Kennedy visited the Berlin Wall to inquire about a fence-line dispute.

West was in Arizona on Saturday to participate in a panel discussion on the historic roots of the newest Arizona immigration–criminal law we routinely call SB1070. Held at North High School, the discussion involved six speakers—as well as the standing-room-only crowd that packed the seats, the aisles and even the steps leading to the stage.

The other speakers were Pablo Alvarado, Tupac Enrique, Dr. Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, Dr. Michelle Tellez and Dr. Michael Whitaker.

West is the author of many works, including Race Matters and Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America. (More information on him is here.)

On Saturday, the scholar, author and Princeton philosophy professor took seriously the charge to examine “How We Got Here.” He took those assembled back far beyond an analysis of recent decades, back to a time before European immigrants shouldered their way onto an already-inhabited continent. Along the way, he peppered his insights with Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton.

It’s unlikely an auditorium crowd ever enjoyed a history lesson more.

Yes, West mentioned in passing the historic detail called SB1070. But he was more interested in rousing audience–participants to thought and its analogue—action.

(I call them audience–participants because of their own spontaneous vocal stylings, egging on and reveling in the speakers, all of whom appeared to draw energy from the barely seated crowd.)

His commitment to the music lyric as a path forward again emerged when he quoted Sly Stone: “Stand, you’ve been sitting much too long, there’s a permanent crease in your right or wrong.”

“And that was 1970,” West marveled. “40 years ago.”

West purred, grumbled and raged to his listeners. He said, “There is no place I would rather be than Arizona, because this is ground zero for the struggle for rights.”

Taking on a wide range of the problems—of which he called SB1070 a symptom—he said, “In the face of greed, resentment and revenge, we want justice.”

He and other panelists noted the diversity of people in the room, which went beyond African American and Latino American.

“I am unapologetic about my love for black people,” he said with a smile. “But I’ve got spillover love.” That one made the appreciative audience send back quite a few claps, hoots, hollers—and some love of their own.

He urged listeners to work for social justice.

“One day our bodies will be the culinary delight of the celestial world,” he said. “The question is what kind of a human you want to be right now.”

In fact, West may want to add “poet” to his list of accomplishments. He kept those assembled laughing out loud at his quips and quotes:

  • “I am just a 57-year-old, Jesus-loving free black man, and I am happy to be here.”
  • “Our moral constipation is becoming hegemonic: Knowing what’s right, but it gets stuck and won’t come out.”

He said that American history is shrouded in a denial of the choices made in regard to the rights and property of people of color. “Our country’s original sin was the subordination of our indigenous brothers.”

“Let’s keep it true,” he said. “Let’s keep it funky.”

When West turned to the modern day, he roused listeners even more. He acknowledged that the November elections did not look favorable for those who shared his political views. But he added, “The Tea Party has no monopoly on organizing folks. Wait until we wake up.”

The fact that things did not look promising disturbed West not at all.

“For those who love poor people, it often doesn’t look too good. And that’s why you have to be a long-distance runner.”

Here are some more photos from the event.

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