Supreme Court takes Arizona immigration law case in key test of federal power
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider the tough Arizona immigration law, setting the stage for a potentially landmark ruling on whether states have rights to set immigration policy.
The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether Arizona’s tough immigration law, SB 1070, impermissibly interferes with the Obama administration’s kinder, gentler approach to illegal immigration and is thus preempted by federal law.Skip to next paragraph
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The case, Arizona v. US (11-182), will be heard next spring by eight justices, with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from consideration of the appeal. (Justice Kagan served as President Obama’s solicitor general prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court.)
Accepting the case sets the stage for a second major election-year showdown at the nation’s highest court over a potential landmark legal dispute that brings into sharp focus a fundamental disagreement between Democrats and Republicans that has left the country bitterly divided.
Last month, the high court set aside an extraordinary 5-1/2 hours for oral argument on President Obama’s health-care reform law, including whether Congress overstepped constitutional limitations on its authority by ordering every American to purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.
Like the health-care reform debate, the immigration fight also highlights conflicting approaches to a difficult national problem. The question is how best to address a chronic crisis of porous borders and rampant illegal immigration. There are currently an estimated 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US.
The problem is not unique to Arizona, nor is the federal-state legal battle. In addition to the Arizona law, the Obama administration is fighting to overturn tough immigration-related state laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah, and South Carolina.
The illegal immigration problem escalated in Arizona after border controls in Texas and California were beefed up following the 9/11 attacks. Arizona’s 370-mile border with Mexico has become a high-risk danger zone with the combination of human smuggling and the operations of violent Mexican drug cartels. Arizona spends several hundred million dollars a year in law enforcement costs, as well as to provide education and health care to illegal immigrants, according to the state’s brief to the high court.
The Obama administration’s secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, knows the situation in Arizona well. In 2005, when she was Arizona’s governor, she declared a state of emergency because of escalating border violence and criticized the federal government for failing to effectively police the border.