SCOTUS and the Arizona Immigration LawPosted: April 25, 2012
The Supremes heard arguments on the Arizona Immigration Law today. This is the law that Romney considers to be a blueprint for immigration laws in the US that has been challenged by the Obama Justice Department. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t offer up any authoritative opinions, but I can offer up some reads for you.
From the NYT: Justices Seem Sympathetic to Central Part of Arizona Law
Mr. Verrilli, representing the federal government, had urged the court to strike down part of the law requiring state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if the officials have reason to believe that the person might be an illegal immigrant.
“Why don’t you try to come up with something else?” Justice Sotomayor asked Mr. Verrilli.
It was harder to read the court’s attitude toward the three other provisions of the law at issue in the case, including ones that make it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or to fail to register with federal authorities. The court’s ruling, expected by June, may thus be a split decision that upholds parts of the law and strikes down others.
Should the court uphold any part of the law, immigration groups are likely to challenge it based on an argument not before that court on Wednesday — that the law discriminates on the basis of race and ethnic background.
Indeed, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. made clear that the case, like last month’s arguments over President Obama’s health care law, was about the allocation of state and federal power.
“No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?” the chief justice asked Mr. Verrilli, who agreed.
With Justice Antonin Scalia pushing the radical idea that the Constitution gives states clear authority to close their borders entirely to immigrants without a legal right to be in the U.S., seven other Justices on Wednesday went looking for a more reasonable way to judge states’ power in the immigration field. If the Court accepts the word of Arizona’s lawyer that the state is seeking only very limited authority, the state has a real chance to begin enforcing key parts of its controversial law — S.B. 1070 — at least until further legal tests unfold in lower courts.
In an oral argument that ran 20 minutes beyond the scheduled hour, the Justices focused tightly on the actual operation of the four specific provisions of the law at issue, and most of the Court seemed prepared to accept that Arizona police would act in measured ways as they arrest and detain individuals they think might be in the U.S. illegally. And most of the Justices seemed somewhat skeptical that the federal government would have to change its own immigration priorities just because states were becoming more active.
At the end of the argument in Arizona v. United States (11-182), though, the question remained how a final opinion might be written to enlarge states’ power to deal with some 12 million foreign nationals without basing that authority upon the Scalia view that states have a free hand under the Constitution to craft their own immigration policies. The other Justices who spoke up obviously did not want to turn states entirely loose in this field. So perhaps not all of the four clauses would survive — especially vulnerable may be sections that created new state crimes as a way to enforce federal immigration restrictions.
Chief Justice John Roberts said he didn’t see a problem with that portion of the Arizona law, S.B. 1070. Under the statute, state officials would be notifying federal officials of the immigration status of the person in question. Roberts argued that the power to decide what to do with the that person still lay within the hands of the federal government. He also said the state, in that instance, would be attempting to help the federal government and supersede its role.
A key element to the government’s objections to the Arizona law rests on the argument that the state law conflicts with federal immigration laws already in place.
Verrilli also argued that immigration enforcement matters were entrusted to the federal government by the framers of the country — and not to the states — because they involve matters of foreign policy.
A final decision will not be reached until June, but the line of questioning from the more liberal and conservative justices alike seemed to indicate a belief that Arizona had a stronger case than the government on at least two of the law’s four provisions under question.
The passage of the law created an uproar last year and renewed the national debate over how to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States. It’s expected to be an issue in the election as the Obama administration sued to stop it, and Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, has expressed support for parts of it.
This is turning out to be a very interesting SCOTUS session and it appears that most of the justices have a distinct ideological bias. This proves that elections may not always bring the results in other areas but in terms of stacking the supreme court, the election of Presidents with IOUs to an ideological base shows up in how our laws will be interpreted.