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AZ Week Notebook entry


"Show me your papers."

That's the line that politicians boasted was the underlying theme to SB1070, the phrase a takeoff on the misquoted line from the bandido in Treasure of Sierra Madre -- "We don't need no stinkin' badges."

The media picked up "show me your papers" quickly and ubiquitously, even in the aftermath of Monday's Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

"Individual mandate."

That's the phrase used by both sides in the debate over the Affordable Care Act, with one side saying it is good to make everyone take responsibility for health insurance, the opponents saying such a mandate is a breach of individual freedom.

And again, the media glommed onto it and have driven it into the linguistic ground.

The problem with both phrases -- "show me your papers" and "individual mandate" -- is that they are no longer true based on the Supreme Court rulings of this week.

The court struck down the "show me your papers" part of Arizona's immigration law. Immigrants cannot be compelled to carry proof of legal residency with them, the court said. Thus, if stopped by an Arizona law-enforcement officer suspecting someone is in the country illegally, no "showing of papers" is needed.

Yet the media continued using the phrase in the hours and days after the ruling.

Same with "individual mandate," which the Supreme Court truck down. It goes to the heart of explaining the court's decision. The mandate was claimed under the Constitution's commerce clause, but the court said no. Rather, it ruled, an individual is not "mandated" to carry health insurance; he or she can pay a tax instead.

All in all some rather fine points of word usage. Nevertheless, accuracy must prevail, most especially when our striving to explain ends up oversimplifying to the point of fictionalizing.

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About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.

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sb1070 Affordable Care Act SB1070 Supreme Court show me your papers individual mandate