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.
(Page 2 of 3)
“Arizona has repeatedly asked the federal government for more vigorous enforcement of the federal immigration laws, but to no avail,” Paul Clement, the Washington lawyer representing Arizona in the case, wrote in his brief urging the court to take up the state’s appeal.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In response to the perceived failure of the federal government to secure the border, Arizona legislators passed a state law to permit local and state officials to aggressively enforce immigration prohibitions. It was designed, in part, to encourage illegal immigrants to leave Arizona under a policy called “attrition through enforcement.” The state statute mirrors provisions of federal immigration law, for example, making it a violation of Arizona law to fail to abide by a federal requirement that non-citizens at all times carry a green card or other government-issued registration papers.
SB 1070 also made it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to work as an employee or independent contractor in Arizona. It authorized state law enforcement officials to arrest without a warrant any person the officer had probable cause to believe committed a crime that would render them deportable from the US.
And in its most criticized provision, SB 1070 required state and local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone stopped or detained if the officer had reasonable suspicion the individual was present in the US illegally.
Immigrant rights groups objected to the new state law, saying it would lead to illegal racial profiling and harassment of legal immigrants and citizens of Hispanic appearance. The Obama administration entered the dispute, filing a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block implementation of SB 1070.
A federal judge agreed that the state law clashed with immigration enforcement priorities of the Obama administration. Four key provisions of the law were struck down because the judge said they were preempted by federal immigration laws. A panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, ruling that there were no possible circumstances in which the challenged provisions could be enforced without violating the Constitution.
Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.
Although the case involves provisions of immigration law, the underlying dispute between Arizona and the Obama administration is over opposing conceptions of federal and state power.
Arizona and other states argue that they have the authority to protect their citizens from crime and lawlessness linked to the national government’s failed immigration policies.
In contrast, the Obama administration argues that the power of the national government trumps any authority claimed by the states to aggressively enforce immigration laws.
The clash is further heightened by the politics of race and voter demographics. Latinos are the fastest growing immigrant group in the nation and Democrats are hopeful that they will become a potential game-changing force in American politics, helping to convert Republican red states and swing states into solid Democrat-voting blue states.
In his brief to the court, US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli says immigration laws passed by Congress allow federal officials the discretion to decide the proper balance between tough law enforcement sanctions, foreign policy considerations, and humanitarian concerns.