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Arizona in the Dock

Postmillennialism —  April 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

World magazine — A posse of state attorneys general were milling around on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building—again. Another day at the high court, another blockbuster case.

Wednesday’s case on Arizona’s immigration law, the last of the Supreme Court’s term, was in many ways a parallel of last month’s historic healthcare case. Arizona v. United States pitted the same two lawyers against each other: Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and Paul Clement, who was solicitor general during the Bush administration. Dozens of state attorneys general filed briefs in favor and against Arizona’s laws; religious groups took sides, holding vigils; and chanting crowds packed in front of the steps of the court—all just like in the healthcare case.

The justices seemed to view this as a similarly historic case: It was billed for an hour of argument, but they granted the lawyers a rare extra half hour, what Clement called “bonus time.” (Download a PDF of the transcript.) Missing from this case was Justice Elena Kagan, who, because of her position as the former solicitor general in the Obama administration, recused herself. If the court’s vote ends up tied 4-4, then the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn most of the law would be in force.

The court will decide the case sometime in the next two months, and the decision will have a wide impact because over the last two years a number of states—Utah, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina—have passed similar immigration laws and have faced similar legal challenges. Some federal courts are waiting on the Supreme Court’s ruling to decide these other states’ cases. Plus, other state legislatures are currently working on passing Arizona-type laws.

The justices will not be deciding whether the Arizona law, known as S.B. 1070, is a good law. The federal government’s lawsuit did not ask the court to consider, for example, whether the law’s provision allowing law enforcement officers to check the immigration papers of those they reasonably suspect are in the country illegally amounts to racial profiling.

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