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Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on Arizona SB 1070

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Wednesday on the controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070. The law, which permits state officials to enforce federal immigration laws, has been deemed an “illegal immigration crackdown.” In April of last year, the 9th Circuit blocked certain portions of the bill, including provisions that would require state and local law enforcement to verify the citizenship status of anyone stopped, detained or arrested when there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the United States unlawfully. The law would also authorize law enforcement officials to make an arrest without a warrant when an officer has “probable cause” to believe the person has committed an offense making him removable from the United States. This provision was also blocked last April.       

The state of Arizona argued Wednesday that the law merely enables the state to enlist its own resources to enforce federal immigration laws, whereas the federal government argued that the state law is preempted. There has also been criticism that the law calls for racial profiling; however, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. on behalf of the federal government, assured the Court he would not be making this argument.       

Although a decision is not likely to be handed down for some time, the Supreme Court Justices appeared generally to be in favor of the law. During Solicitor Verrilli’s argument, Justice Scalia asked questions indicating that a sovereign state should be permitted to defend its own borders. Justice Roberts “[didn’t] see the problem” with local law enforcement checking immigration status. Even liberal Justice Sotomayor told Verilli that the argument against checking immigration status was “not selling very well.” The Court did, however, seem perceptive to the government’s argument that the provisions of the law making it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to seek work or fail to register with the federal government went beyond the sanctions imposed by federal immigration law.

The Arizona law, if upheld, will spawn a ripple effect of similar laws in other states, including Florida. The immigration community will thus wait on pins and needles until a decision in the case is reached.

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About this Author


William J. Flynn, III is the Practice Leader of the International Practice Group.  His practice includes a large immigration practice representing foreign nationals and U.S. corporations that employ foreign nationals. In this capacity, he represents clients before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of State.