“You can see it’s not selling very well,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the federal government’s lawyer. Arizona’s attempt to alert federal authorities that a person may be in the country illegally does not force “you to change your enforcement priorities,” said Sotomayor, one of the court’s liberals and its first Hispanic member.
But the justices did question other aspects of the Arizona law, particularly provisions that make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work and allow non-citizens to be arrested for not carrying documentation.
That raised the prospect of a split decision. And even if key parts of the law are upheld, future legal battles are inevitable as Arizona and other states attempt to implement tough legislation that civil rights groups say could violate constitutional rights.
Chanting protesters outside the court said that Arizona’s S.B. 1070 has created a climate of fear among the state’s mostly Latino immigrant population and that it will lead to racial and ethnic profiling. Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who has been closely identified with the law, emerged from the oral argument saying that she was “very, very” encouraged and that protesters were playing “the race card.”
It was a different scene — and a different emphasis — inside the courtroom.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. went out of his way to say that the court’s consideration of the law would not deal with those issues. Instead, the deliberations were a revival of the questions of federal power and states’ rights that marked last month’s historic arguments about President Obama’s health-care law.
“No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?” Roberts asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who said no.
There could be little evidence that Arizona has implemented the law in a discriminatory way, because the Obama administration went to court to keep key provisions from taking effect.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit blocked provisions of the law 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.
●Would authorize law enforcement officials to make an arrest without a warrant when an officer has “probable cause to believe . . . the person to be arrested has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”