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Which way Arizona? The prognosis on SB 1070

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, Arizona’s challenge to the federal government’s assertion that the state anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070 conflicts with federal law. The justices are weighing four provisions of the law, blocked by a federal judge just before it took effect in July 2010.

These are Section 2(B), which requires police to try to determine the status of people they encounter if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally and requires them to check the status of those they arrest; Section 3, which makes it a state crime to be without valid immigration papers; Section 5(C), which makes it a state crime to work or seek employment in Arizona without valid work authorization; and Section 6, which empowers local police to arrest someone without a warrant if there is "probable cause" that the person committed a deportable offense.


What the judges said: A transcript of today's Supreme Court hearing on SB 1070

The U.S. Supreme Court's website has posted a preliminary transcript of the oral arguments today in Arizona v. United States, Arizona's challenge to the federal government's assertion that its 2010 anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070 conflicts with federal immigration law.

Four provisions of SB 1070, which were blocked in July 2010 by a federal judge before it took effect, are at the heart of the federal preemption argument and will be weighed by the justices.

A decision isn't expected until June. But from early reports from the courthouse, and from the questions asked by the justices, it appears that Arizona stands a chance of prevailing, at least on some provisions. This line of questioning between Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Antonin Scalia and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who is representing the federal government, sets the tone:


Understanding the SB 1070 case: What the Supreme Court justices will decide on

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The crowd outside the U.S. Supreme Court building this morning in Washington, D.C., April 25, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning on Arizona's controversial and precedent-setting SB 1070. A decision isn't expected until June, but how the justices decide will ultimately determine how far states can go in enforcing their own immigration laws. The decision will have far-reaching implications in that since SB 1070 became law in 2010, five other states have enacted similarly stringent immigration laws, and dozens have considered them.

Just what will the justices be weighing? In a nutshell, they'll be deciding whether provisions of Arizona's state law are in conflict with federal immigration law, as the government asserted in its legal challenge filed in July 2010, shortly before SB 1070 partly took effect.

On the eve of the law's implementation that year, a federal judge in Phoenix issued a ruling based on that challenge, blocking four of the Arizona measure's most controversial provisions from taking effect. That decision was upheld later by a federal appeals court. Arizona countered by petitioning the Supreme Court, challenging the two lower courts' decisions; last December, the high court agreed to take the case.


Witness testimony from today's Senate hearing on SB 1070

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A protester holds a union anti-SB 1070 sign, May 1, 2010

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning on the constitutionality of Arizona's SB 1070 and state immigration laws in general brought some heated testimony, with witnesses that included former Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, the controversial anti-illegal immigration law's chief sponsor.

Oral arguments are set for tomorrow as the U.S. Supreme Court takes on Arizona v. United States, an appeal brought by Arizona that challenges the federal government's assertion that immigration enforcement is the province of federal officials, and that SB 1070 is therefore preempted by federal immigration law. The Senate hearing today was much less relevant in the larger sense than whatever the high court will decide, but the arguments were interesting. Here are some highlights from today's witness testimony.


The legacy of SB 1070: Three ways it changed the immigration landscape

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Anti-SB 1070 protesters in downtown Phoenix on the day the law took effect, July 29, 2010

Two years ago today, Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill known as SB 1070. Already, the strict anti-illegal immigration bill had caused heated debate in and out of Arizona, most notably because it would make it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration documents in the state - and because it would empower local police to check for immigration status if they had “reasonable suspicion” that someone was in the country illegally.

Back then, I wrote about the broad implications that SB 1070 would likely have. Would there be a political ripple effect, with other states considering similar laws? Would some immigrants decide they'd had enough and leave the state? Would it change the political discourse on immigration, with politicians basing their platforms on strict policies? And if tested in court, would it hold up?