“Lawful Contact” did not need to be redefined in Arizona illegal immigration bill

Once available, I took a few minutes to read the illegal immigration legislation provided by the Arizona legislature. I certainly knew what lawful contact meant, but some thought it vague enough to result in random ID checks.

Now, the Arizona state legislature has clarified what they meant by lawful contact. They did not have to do that.

My post from April 26 provided the links to the legislation and the summary. The bill uses normal statuary language and references lawful contact. I’m not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding those words are in reference to the normal lawful duties of law enforcement officers. These may include, but are not limited to, traffic stops with probable cause (speeding, broken tail-light, expired tags…), domestic dispute calls, drug investigations, and checking on suspicious activity … including running north through the desert just north of the border with backpacks in the middle of the night.

To make it even more clear, a lawful contact is one that is authorized, sanctioned, or not forbidden by law. Picking out a person from a crowd and asking for their ID because they “look brown” is not authorized or sanctioned, and is forbidden by law.

For some reason, the Arizona state legislature thought they needed to clarify the definition of lawful contact. Byron York at the Washington Examiner notes the state has “fixed” the language.

The first [change] concerns the phrase “lawful contact,” which is contained in this controversial portion of the bill: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…” Although drafters of the law said the intent of “lawful contact” was to specify situations in which police have stopped someone because he or she was suspected of violating some other law — like a traffic stop — critics said it would allow cops to pick anyone out of a crowd and “demand their papers.”

So now, in response to those critics, lawmakers have removed “lawful contact” from the bill and replaced it with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.” In an explanatory note, lawmakers added that the change “stipulates that a lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”

The second change concerns the word “solely.”  In a safeguard against racial profiling, the law contained the phrase, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.”  Critics objected to that, too, arguing again that it would not prevent but instead lead to racial profiling.  So lawmakers have taken out the word “solely.”

Ed Morrissey over at the newly-themed Hot Air thinks they should have clarified this in the first place and known the open border crowds would use the “vague” language as a racism cry.

I don’t agree. I don’t think this will “make it all better.” The Arizona legislature is quickly going to find out the change in the language will mean nothing. The pressure from the open border lefties will continue and there is no way in hell the president of the United States is going to step out and retract his original statements or say, “great, they fixed it, let’s move on.”

Arizona made this move specifically to address the over-reaction by President Obama, the mayors of sanctuary cities including San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom, and the rest of the open border lefties. Do they honestly think this will result in approval? United States residents – and especially the residents of Arizona – were firmly behind the legislation as written. They knew what it meant.

Exit question. Where else in Arizona state law – or any other state – is the phrase lawful contact used? Will this cause an issue in other pieces of legislation in Arizona that use those two words?

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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. winnifredthewoebegon on May 2, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Don't know why AZ had to "clarify" the phrase…They should have left it alone knowing that it was just fine.  They won't get approval from Obama or other democrats, and they need to expect (and accept) that the phrasing of Obama's original remarks won't change.

    When agreement comes from the left for AZ's new immigration bill, that's when we can slump our shoulders in realization that it has been watered down into a useless piece of legislation as so often happens.  I'm hoping that that is NOT what happens.

  2. dom on May 2, 2010 at 6:04 am

    the reason the change in language, which I think was necessary, will make no difference if because the first impressions are out there, the protests are out, and the dialogue will not change. in fact, I imaging this wording change will go largely unreported, which is why, as Morissey said, they should have gotten it right the first time.

    the language that needed to be changed was not so much "lawful contact" but the more vague "reasonable suspicion.". essentially replacing that with "lawful stop…" which is not as open to interpretation.

  3. Tim-in-Alabama on May 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Some folks won't be happy until the language reads, "There shall be no contact," between police and criminally illegal immigrant alien undocumented scofflaws.

  4. theignorantfisherman on May 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Remember… that these Progressives live outside the rules and laws of Natural Law. They are lawless… and will not be held to any…They see Natural Laws and the Constitution as fascist and tyrannical as we see them as a safe safeguard and beneficial.

    Double speak… is the language of the day… get use to it.


  5. Erik Blazynski on May 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    they obviously changed the wording to clarify the law. This is not a strictly a political move (yes Steve not everything is a political move) it is a matter of making good unambiguous law.

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