High court passes on tobacco cases, takes on Ariz. immigration law

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2010; 1:25 PM

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to review an Arizona law that sanctions employers for hiring illegal immigrants, but the justices declined to get involved in landmark anti-tobacco litigation, leaving in place a ruling that said cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking.

The rejection of a series of tobacco cases closes a legal odyssey that began when the Justice Department sued tobacco companies and trade groups more than a decade ago. The court declined to hear appeals of the 2006 ruling by a federal judge in the District that said the industry conspired for decades to defraud the public about smoking's hazards.

Legal analysts said the decision is a mixed verdict for the tobacco industry, however, because it also prevents the Obama administration from seeking to recover $280 billion in past industry profits or $14 billion for a national campaign to curb smoking. The Supreme Court previously denied the government's appeal on that issue.

The Arizona law that the court will review during its term starting in October imposes sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. It is not the new Arizona law that President Obama and other members of his administration have recently criticized. That measure empowers police to question anyone who authorities have a "reasonable suspicion" is an illegal immigrant.

With the Justice Department preparing a lawsuit against Arizona over the new law, the court's decision to review the earlier measure -- the Legal Arizona Workers Act -- signals a willingness to get involved in one of the nation's most politically divisive issues. The Obama administration had urged the court to review and set aside the Legal Arizona Workers Act, saying federal immigration law should preempt state efforts.

U.S. officials have said that in its suit against Arizona's law empowering police to question illegal immigrants, the Justice Department is considering a similar "preemption" argument.

In other action Monday, the court declined to stop a lawsuit that accuses the Vatican of conspiring with U.S. church officials to transfer a priest from city to city despite repeated accusations that he sexually abused young people. The lawsuit was filed by a Seattle area man who said he was sexually abused as a teenager in the late 1960s.

The Vatican had argued that as a foreign country, it was exempt from being sued in a U.S. court. A lower court ruled the Vatican could be sued under certain grounds. The Supreme Court declined to hear the Vatican's appeal, which allows the lawsuit to move forward.

It was not immediately clear what implications the court's action could have for other lawsuits against the Vatican over the church's sex abuse scandal.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company