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Arizona appeals judge's ruling on immigration law

By Jerry Markon and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010; A03

Hundreds of opponents of Arizona's new immigration law swarmed the streets of downtown Phoenix Thursday, confronting police in riot gear as the state's governor filed an urgent appeal of a judge's ruling that prevented key portions of the law from taking effect.

(Read the Judge's ruling)

Condemning what they called the "terrorizing" of Hispanics, protesters blockaded a jail and marched to the offices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his aggressive stance on illegal immigrants. The sheriff vowed a "crime sweep" targeting illegal immigrants but later postponed the raids. At least 17 protesters were arrested.

(Photos: As immigration law looms, local tensions mount)

With the case's future uncertain, the demonstrations illustrated that tensions over the state's immigration crackdown may only have been heightened by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's ruling Wednesday in the Obama administration's lawsuit against Arizona. Bolton temporarily blocked the law's most controversial sections, but protesters objected to other provisions that she allowed to take effect on Thursday.

(Immigrant rights groups change focus away from reform)

A day after Bolton's decision riveted attention on illegal immigration, it was clear that the increasingly divisive debate is spreading nationwide.

Similar bills

Nearly 20 states have introduced bills similar to the Arizona law, and nine states with Republican attorneys general are planning to file appellate briefs supporting Arizona. Immigration is a key theme in this fall's midterm elections; at the same time conservative candidates are attacking what they say is the Obama administration's aggressive expansion of government.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), whose fierce criticism of the federal lawsuit has helped her popularity at home, on Thursday appealed Bolton's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Urging the court to quickly hear the case, she vowed that she "will not back down." The Justice Department, whose lawsuit against Arizona was a rare federal challenge of a state law, declined to comment.

If the political reactions to Bolton's decision were predictable, the legal path forward was not. The 9th Circuit has a liberal reputation, and court officials said the case will be heard by a "motions panel" designed for urgent appeals. The panel this month consists of three judges who, like Bolton, were appointed by Democratic presidents.

But if the panel's decision is appealed to the full 9th Circuit, 10 of the 11 judges will be chosen by a random computerized draw. The 11th jurist will be Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a Republican appointee.

Although many legal experts believe the case is ultimately headed to the Supreme Court, it is unclear at what point in the process that might happen. If the 9th Circuit upholds Bolton's preliminary injunction, experts said it is unlikely the high court would disturb such a ruling until the case over the law is decided.

The Supreme Court already has one Arizona immigration challenge on its fall docket. It has agreed to hear a case brought by an unusual coalition of business groups and civil rights organizations seeking to overturn a separate state law that revokes the business licenses of employers who hire illegal immigrants.

The Justice Department filed suit July 6, seeking to overturn the newer and more comprehensive Arizona immigration law, which Brewer signed in April. The law empowers police to question people whom they have a "reasonable suspicion" are illegal immigrants. Federal lawyers argued that it intruded into exclusive federal immigration enforcement.

(Read the Justice Department's lawsuit)

In her ruling Wednesday, Bolton put on hold -- while the lawsuit proceeds -- sections of the law that have drawn the most opposition from civil rights groups. They include provisions that would require police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws, allow for warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants and criminalize the failure of immigrants to carry registration papers. She allowed other portions to take effect, including one making it a crime to stop a car to pick up day laborers.

'Irreparable harm'

Brewer's lawyers argued in their appeal that the injunction violates "Arizona's right to implement a law its Legislature enacted to address the irreparable harm Arizona is suffering as a result of unchecked unlawful immigration." Court officials said an initial ruling could come within days.

In the other Arizona case being considered by the Supreme Court, the Obama administration had urged the court to set aside the 2007 law sanctioning employers who hire illegal immigrants. That case presented a sticky situation for the administration: The law was signed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, who is now homeland security secretary. Her statement then is at odds with the government's arguments now that the state has no role in immigration enforcement.

"Immigration is a federal responsibility, but I signed HB 2779 because it is now abundantly clear that Congress finds itself incapable of coping with the comprehensive immigration reforms our country needs," Napolitano said at the time.

Staff writer Stephanie McCrummen contributed to this report.

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