US Supreme Court to decide Arizona's immigration law

Dec 12, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning agreed to consider whether an injunction against the state's tough immigration law is illegal.

And, in doing so, they are likely to rule on just how far states can go in enacting their own laws in the area.
Without comment the justices accepted the petition by Gov. Jan Brewer to review the action of U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton in blocking the state from enforcing key provisions of SB 1070. The court gave no reason.

The order is at least an interim victory for Brewer who has insisted the state has an inherent right to enact and enforce laws aimed at illegal immigrants. The governor contends that this is not the exclusive province of the federal government.

But the order does not mean victory.

It takes just four of the nine justices to agree to review a case. And Justice Elena Kagan, who used to be the federal solicitor general, did not take part.

That raises the possibility the court could deadlock 4-4 on the underlying legal question. And that would leave Bolton's original injunction in place.

Hanging in the balance are some sweeping sections of law that Bolton barred the state from enforcing, saying they intruded into areas reserved for the federal government.

These include:
- Requiring police who have stopped someone for any reason to verify their legal presence in this country if there is "reasonable suspicion'' they are in this country illegall;
- Prohibiting police from releasing someone who has been arrested until checking that person's immigration status;
- Letting officers make arrests without a warrant of foreign nationals, legal or otherwise, who commit offenses that make them "removable'' from this country under federal law;
- Making it a crime for someone not in this country legally to be charged with violating state law;
- Allowing police to arrest any foreigner who fails to carry proof he or she has a legal right to be in the United States.

In issuing the injunction, Bolton did more than say the state exceeded its powers. She also concluded that there would be harm to international relations if Arizona -- and other states -- began enacting and enforcing its own versions of immigration laws.

Her decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The order is a setback for the Obama administration which had challenged Arizona's law as well as statutes in other states. Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice argued that, given the number of challenge, it was premature for the high court to intercede.

Arizona was thought to have had the toughest law aimed at illegal immigrants in the entire country. But that changed when Alabama lawmakers adopted not just some similar provisions but also required school officials to check the immigration status of school children.

Arizona lawmakers had considered a similar measure earlier this year. But it was defeated when several Republican senators refused to go along with their leadership.