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Supreme Court Set to Open SB 1070 Arguments

The Supreme Court's decision on SB 1070 could impact other state-based immigration legislation. (AP Photo)

April 23, 2012

On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law that seeks to crack down on undocumented immigrants. At stake is whether it is constitutional for states to create their own immigration legislation, since the decision could set a precedent for other state-based immigration laws. The case could also potentially impact the Latino vote during the upcoming U.S. presidential election. It may also stir concerns in Latin America, given that several countries in the regions voiced opposition to the legislation.

Arizona passed the law in April 2010, spurring an outcry both in the United States and abroad. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against the law in early July 2010; SB 1070 was due to go into effect July 29 of that year. A day before the law was to be implemented, an Arizona district court judge blocked part of the legislation from taking effect with a temporary injunction based on the DOJ’s lawsuit.

Now, the Supreme Court will decide the legality of the four sections of the law blocked in the July 28, 2010 injunction. First, judges will decide if police officers can investigate a person’s immigration status if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person lacks immigration documents. The Court will also rule if police can arrest non-citizens without a warrant if there is probable cause that immigrants committed a crime that would lead to deportation. The Court will determine whether it is a crime for undocumented immigrants to solicit or perform work. Judges will decide if non-citizens must carry immigration documents at all times and if the state can criminalize the failure to apply for immigrant registration papers. A final ruling is expected in June.

One of the main legal issues at stake is whether Arizona preempted federal immigration law, since national-level laws are designed to take precedence over state legislation. The court may uphold some, all, or none of the sections of the law, and there are a number of possible outcomes. If the judges rule against the law, those parts of the law will not go into effect. Since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, the Court could divide evenly, which would mean that sections of the law will remain blocked, but no opinion will be issued. If the Court rules for Arizona, the four parts of the law will get the green light. In this scenario, however, litigants could challenge individual parts of the law later on.

Consequently, the outcome of the case could impact other state-based immigration legislation in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. If the Court rules against sections of the Arizona law with identical counterparts in other state laws, those provisions in other states will be suspended. If the justices uphold the law, it could set a precedent for other states to take up their own immigration legislation. But a tied vote would mean no precedent would be set, so other state-based laws would not be affected.

The ruling may also affect the Latino vote during the upcoming presidential elections in November. Latinos favor President Barack Obama over candidate Mitt Romney, a Pew Hispanic Center poll found last week. A Houston Chronicle article argues that if justices uphold the law, it could “energize Latino voters to turn out in larger numbers for Obama” and the Hispanic electorate could “tip the balance in key swing states.” A January 2012 survey from Univision/Latino Decisions found that 46 percent of Latino voters believe immigration reform is an important issue, making it the third-most important to the Hispanic electorate after the economy and employment.

Moreover, the outcome of the case has implications for the United States’ relations in the Western Hemisphere. Mexico filed an amicus brief, or a legal document as a “friend of the court,” against SB 1070, while 16 Latin American countries filed in support of Mexico. Consuls from nine Latin American countries denounced the law after its passage, and eight countries including Mexico signed a joint declaration condemning the law in July 2010. In mid-2010, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón criticized the law, saying: “I reaffirm our strong rejection of the criminalization of migration. We firmly oppose SB 1070 because [of its] unjust, racial, and discriminatory principles.”

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