November 25, 2014

Jan Brewer’s book notes subpoenaed by opponents of immigration law


"Whenever you write a book, always be prepared for a subpoena" - #2 on my Rules for Writers. Image via Wikipedia.

“Whenever you write a book, always be prepared for a subpoena” – #2 of my Rules for Writers. Image via Wikipedia.

“What did the governor know, and when did she know it?” That’s the question that immigrants rights groups mean to answer about Arizona governor Jan Brewer, and her role in crafting and signing SB 1070, the strict immigration law that has been widely decried as racist. The law was partially stuck down by the Supreme Court but the outstanding portions are being challenged in court. To that end, the plantiffs, which include the ACLU and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, have been granted a subpoena for the notes and materials Brewer used when writing her book Scorpions For BreakfastThe Arizona Star reports that the subpoena requests:

Any communications she had with anyone about what went into the book, whether in formal interviews, notes of conversations, emails, formal statements or anything else “regarding the substance and/or content of the aforementioned book.”

The book is billed as Brewer’s story of the preparation and passage of SB 1070, and the grounds for the subpoena come from the plaintiff’s challenge; namely, that the law was racially motivated. The AP by way of the San Jose Mercury News reports that the documents requested are part of a larger information gathering mission, and that the prosecution is searching for any sign of discriminatory intent in the law’s construction by gathering similar documents from other parties as well as Brewer.

Former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the Legislature’s chief advocate for the law, was ordered in September to comply with a subpoena to turn over his emails and documents about the law.

[ACLU attorney] Justin Cox said the subpoena for Brewer’s book-related documents was issued after she declined to provide them through a records request.

I’m no legal expert, but I do watch The Good Wife with a devotion that borders on the fanatical, so I think this is what defense counsel would call “a fishing expedition.” However, the prosecution’s pursuit of Brewer’s authorial ephemera is part of a broad sweep because the intent is to prove Brewer acted on bad faith or with bad information. Though they would hope for a smoking gun (in this case, the documents requested in previous subpoenas have been targeted for the inclusion of words like “illegal” and “wetback”), SB 1070 was a product of multiple advisory bodies.

The challenge is proving a pattern of discrimination in the advice Brewer received, and that’s why the documents related to her book would be of interest, as they would include information that never made its way into the book. The prosecution is effectively investigating negative space and editorial discretion. Is this subpoena really just a passive aggressive shot across Adam Bellow‘s bow? (Probably not.)

Scorpions for Breakfast was a book-length defense of the law, starting with the grandiose subtitle: “My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media, and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border.” In the book and in public, Brewer has always pivoted from the idea that the law was about race. The case against SB 1070 is ongoing, and the prosecution’s wide net ensures that will not change for the time being. Still, it’s good to read an article about books under Arizona law that doesn’t only involve blithe racism denial, or judicial overreach that stifles the publication of ethnic studies and depictions of nudity.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.