The US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Wednesday
concerning the tough Arizona immigration law. Key question: Does the
state statute usurp federal authority to set immigration policy?
For the second time in a month, the US Supreme Court will hear
oral argument in a major election-year dispute that pits state
officials against the Obama administration over the balance of power
between states and the national government.
On April 25, the issue before the justices is whether Arizona
exceeded its authority when it passed a tough immigration
enforcement statute, Senate Bill 1070, designed to encourage illegal
immigrants to pack up and leave. The Arizona strategy is called
"attrition through enforcement."
The Arizona case comes roughly a month after 26 states argued at
the high court that Congress had overstepped its authority in
passing the president's health-care reform law.
As in the health-care case, the stakes in the immigration dispute
extend well beyond fundamental questions about the scope of state
and federal power. A high court decision in late June could boost or
complicate political fortunes in a presidential election year.
Immigration is an important issue to many Latino voters, a
significant and growing constituency within the US electorate.
Polling shows President Obama with a substantial lead among Latinos
over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
But immigration is also a powerful issue among conservatives and
many independents. Polls show that despite an Obama administration
lawsuit to block Arizona's immigration enforcement law, Americans
favor the state's tough provision 2 to 1.
As if that isn't enough drama, the same two lawyers who argued
the health-care case are set to face off again in the Arizona
dispute - Washington appellate lawyer Paul Clement and Solicitor
General Donald Verrilli.
The question for the high court is whether Arizona and other
states are entitled to pass state laws that mirror specific
provisions in federal immigration statutes and strictly enforce
those provisions even when the Obama administration has decided - as
a matter of policy and budgetary constraint - not to enforce those
"There is absolutely no conflict between these [Arizona]
provisions and federal law because SB 1070 adopts the federal rule
as its own," Mr. Clement writes in his brief on behalf of Arizona.
He adds: "Unless and until Congress expressly forecloses such
efforts, Arizona has the inherent authority to add its own resources
to the enforcement of federal laws."
Solicitor General Verrilli argues in his brief on behalf of the
administration that the Constitution assigns matters of immigration
and border enforcement exclusively to the national government. He
adds that Congress gave the executive branch substantial discretion
to decide how best to enforce the laws.
SB 1070 is an attempt by Arizona to impose state priorities in
place of the president's national priorities, Verrilli says. Rather
than attempting to arrest and deport all illegal immigrants, the
Obama administration says it is focusing on violent criminals and
those posing a potential national security threat.
"Arizona has adopted its own immigration policy, which focuses
solely on maximum enforcement and pays no heed to the multifaceted
judgments that the [federal immigration law] provides for the
executive branch to make," Verrilli writes.
"For each state, and each locality, to set its own immigration
policy in that fashion would wholly subvert Congress's goal: a
single, national approach," he says.
Arizona's SB 1070 is best known for a provision that requires
state and local law enforcement officials to check the immigration
status of anyone detained in a traffic or other stop whenever
authorities have reason to suspect the individual is in the United
States illegally. …