Supreme Court Appears to Favor Arizona on Controversial Immigration Law SB 1070

The Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Arizona’s immigration law, which requires police to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vigorously defended the state's anti-immigrant law. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Flickr

On Wednesday morning a majority of the Supreme Court justices appeared sympathetic to Arizona’s argument that the most controversial elements of its immigration law offer a legitimate helping hand to federal immigration policy, rather than act as unconstitutional agents of chaos, reports The Huff Post.

The Arizona law requires police to check with federal officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.

According to The Washington Times, the government argues that is OK when it’s on a limited basis, but said having a state mandate for all of its law enforcement is essentially a method of trying to force the federal government to change its priorities.

The Obama administration has sued, claiming that those provisions conflict with the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy. But justices on both sides of the aisle struggled to understand that argument.

D.C. superlawyer Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of Arizona and its governor, Jan Brewer, told the justices that the state’s law, commonly referred to as S.B. 1070, “borrowed the federal standard as its own” in combating Arizona’s “disproportionate share of the costs of illegal immigration.”

The Supreme Court’s liberal members were Clement’s most aggressive questioners, but they also were far from broadly protesting S.B. 1070. They focused narrowly on the prospect that U.S. citizens could be detained under the “papers please” provision for unconstitutionally unreasonable lengths of time.

“As I understand it, when individuals are arrested and held for other crimes, often there’s an immigration check that most states do without this law,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“What I see as critical is the issue of how long,” she said, questioning the length of a time the person would be held while Arizona law enforcement checked his or her status with the federal government,” she said.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said the federal government has limited resources and should have the right to determine the extent of calls it gets about possible illegal immigrants.

“These decisions have to be made at the national level,” he said.

The Obama administration argued that Arizona should not be allowed to impose state penalties such as jail time against illegal immigrants who try to seek jobs, necause federal law targets employers, not employees.

Mr. Verrilli said that adding stiffer penalties at the state level is not coordination. He added that Congress’s 1986 immigration law laying out legal penalties was meant to be a comprehensive scheme, and Congress left employees untouched — and Justice Sotomayor seemed to agree.

“It seems odd to think the federal government is deciding on employer sanctions and has unconsciously decided not to punish employees,” she told Paul D. Clement, who argued the case on behalf of Arizona.

In Alabama, farmers suffered from lack of seasonal workers to harvest crops. That caused lawmakers there to rethink their version of SB 1070, writes The Arizona Republic.

“That is the message we would like to get out,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. “This is a failed experiment. It’s costly. It’s divisive. And it’s not good for business.

“So, even if the Supreme Court says that it is OK for SB 1070 to go into effect, that doesn’t mean that it is good for your state. Some of the states that approved such laws are having buyer’s remorse. Over 20 states introduced this type of legislation but only five went through with it, and there have been all types of negative consequences,” she said.

Former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (R), the author of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, better known as S.B. 1070, defended the law, according to RT.

“I knew those kinds of issues would be raised by those open-border folks that are against any enforcement. We’ve been sued on everything we’ve done from voting fraud — to stop voting fraud — to welfare fraud to going after illegal employers who compete illegally, immorally and have a competitive advantage over the honest employer,” he said to lawmakers in Washington, DC.

“Doesn’t seem like no matter what we do, Mr. Chairman, we’re attacked for simply enforcing the law, trying to protect American citizens and jobs for Americans. … We simply wrote the bill to preempt those kinds of silly arguments and try to protect everybody’s rights,” explained Pearce .

Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the measure into law, was present for the arguments, as were members of Congress who follow the immigration issue.

Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case, because she worked on it while serving as solicitor general. Her absence makes a 4-4 split possible, which would automatically affirm the 9th Circuit’s judgment without creating a nationwide precedent against similar laws passed in five other states and being seriously considered by another eight.

However, a 4-4 vote did not seem at all likely on Wednesday, as majorities of the justices leaned toward blocking the criminal sanctions while allowing the “papers please” and warrantless arrest provisions to go into effect, provided detainees are not held longer than they would be in the absence of S.B. 1070.

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