On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the U.S. Department of Justice’s case against Arizona’s landmark illegal immigration law. The case will determine not only the fate of SB1070 but of similar laws that have been passed or proposed in a handful of other states.
And as a warm-up to the Supreme Court arguments, a U.S. Senate subcommittee will hear testimony on Tuesday from the bill’s author and one of its most vocal critics.
After being snubbed by Gov. Jan Brewer, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer invited former Sen. Russell Pearce, who spent years pushing provisions that became SB1070, and Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, an outspoken foe of state-level enforcement of immigration laws.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security hearing will begin at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Todd Landfried, of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, will also testify at the hearing.
The Supreme Court hearing will be the culmination of nearly two years of court battles over the controversial SB1070, which Brewer, Pearce and other proponents say is needed to address the federal government’s failure to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
The ruling, which is expected during the summer, is expected to establish how far states can go in enforcing federal immigration laws that DOJ and President Barack Obama say is the sole province of the federal government.
In 2010, a federal judge blocked some of SB1070’s key provisions from going into effect, including sections that required law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stopped if there was a “reasonable suspicion” that they were in the country illegally, and effectively made it a state crime in the country illegally. Judge Susan Bolton also blocked provisions that allow police the make warrantless arrests and prohibit illegal immigrants from seeking work.
Arizona State University law professor Andy Hessick said the Supreme Court’s decision in the case will tell states whether, and to what extent, states can enforce federal immigration laws, which DOJ and the Obama administration argue are unconstitutional because they are preempted by federal law.
“One could argue – and the government is arguing – that (federal immigration laws) are so broad that they meant for those laws to be the only laws on the topic, and therefore any Arizona law regulating immigration is inconsistent with federal law,” Hessick said. “If they uphold it, states will hopefully have a lot more clarification on what they can do. And I think we can expect some states to pass more legislation because things will be more clear on what they can do.”
Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have all passed legislation similar to SB1070.
Attorney Dan Barr, an outspoken opponent of SB1070, said the issue at hand is deeper than just the enforcement of immigration laws.
“It goes far beyond not only Arizona but far beyond the immigration issue. The question is, are you going to allow states to make enforcement decisions about all sorts of laws that are contrary to those of the federal government?” said Barr, of the firm Perkins Coie.