Supreme Court Considers an ALEC Bill


The controversial Arizona immigration law that President Obama’s administration challenged came before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday was written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, the conservative group that has been in hot water recently for its role in drafting the law that has figured in the headline-making shooting of Trayvon Martin, the teenager gunned down by a Florida homeowner earlier this year.

ALEC  writes model legislation and with the intent of having state legislators pass that legislation into law. According to the Center for American Progress, at least 14 other states have considered, and in some cases passed, legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070—a bill that gives state lawmakers the right to demand identification of persons they suspect of being illegal immigrants. The Justice Department is challenging the law’s constitutionality.

Using automated textual analysis to identify matches in text among the 14 bills, Sunlight was able to identify similarities between the Arizona bill and a few of the other bills identified by CAP. The Alabama bill that became law in June of 2011 stands out as very similar to the law being considered by the Supreme Court today, and our analysis shows that it  is a closer match to ALEC’s model bill than the Arizona bill is.

ALEC has lost some members because of its association with the controversy surrounding the shooting of Martin, a 17-year-old, in Sanford, Fla. by George Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who has since been charged with second-degree murder (he has pleaded not guilty) wasn’t arrested immediately because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. That law, which was adopted by ALEC after the National Rifle Association lobbied Florida state legislators to have it passed in 2005, made it hard for police to arrest Zimmerman because he claimed he acted out of self-defense.

Sunlight’s work relies on software called SuperFastMatch. Created by the Media Standards Trust and supported by a grant from Sunlight, SFM allows for the identification of overlap between text documents at large scales and high speeds. You can examine the connections between SB 1070, the ALEC model bill and the other measures we have collected for yourself by visiting our research instance of SFM. Click the “Documents” tab to begin exploring the different immigrant-related measures we examined and their degree of overlap with those of other states.