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Supreme Court Arizona ruling could shape immigration reform

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to a 2007 Arizona law penalizing employers who hire undocumented migrants.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / June 28, 2010

Oswaldo Alvarado helps customers at Importaciones Valentinas grocery and pinata store in Phoenix May 11. The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a legal challenge by business, civil rights and immigration groups to a 2007 Arizona law that penalizes employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

Joshua Lott/Reuters

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The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a legal challenge by business, civil rights and immigration groups to a 2007 Arizona law that penalizes employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

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The case will not be a ruling on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which has resulted in national furor, economic boycotts, and a high-profile confrontation between Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Obama.

But it could shed light on how courts will be inclined to rule on the lawsuits that have been filed challenging SB 1070, give direction to how states and localities – including Arizona – may proceed with new immigration laws, and help shape comprehensive immigration reform that has been percolating – many say too slowly – in Congress.

“This is potentially the biggest immigration ruling of the past 30 years,” says Kevin Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis Law School and a former member of candidate Obama’s Immigration Policy Group. “Over the past few years, there have been hosts of states and localities attempting to regulate immigration, from Texas to Pennsylvania to Arizona to New Jersey, and this will likely tell us what if any power these states have to make these laws.”

The issue, Mr. Johnson says, has to do with a legal concept known as “federal preemption,” which comes from the supremacy clause of the US constitution, holding that in general, federal law trumps state law.

“This does not necessarily mean, though, that the states and the national government cannot ever legislate on the same subject. They do all the time," says Richard Garnett, Professor of Law and Associate Dean at Notre Dame Law School. "The question will be, in this case (as with the more recent Arizona law) whether the Arizona law interferes in some way with the federal policy.”

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