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Supreme Court hears arguments on Arizona immigration law

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard its final oral arguments [day call, PDF] of the term Wednesday in Arizona v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to determine whether Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] is preempted by federal law. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld an injunction last April before the law ever took effect, and Arizona asked the high court to weigh in [JURIST reports]. Four specific provisions of the law are at issue: Section 2(B), which requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone whom they arrest and allows police to stop and arrest anyone whom they believe to be an illegal immigrant; Section 3, which makes it a crime for someone even to be in the state without valid immigration papers; Section 5(C), which makes it a crime to apply for or hold a job in Arizona without proper papers; and Section 6, which gives a police officer the power to arrest an individual, without a warrant, whom the officer believes has committed a crime that could cause him or her to be deported, no matter where the crime may have occurred.

Counsel for Arizona argued that the state was seeking very limited authority to enforce its immigration scheme, and several justices seemed willing to accept the argument. Justice Antonin Scalia, in particular, showed support for the idea that the Constitution has given states the authority to regular immigration. Counsel for the US argued that the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the federal government. However, he made clear from the outset that he was not making a racial profiling argument, in response to a question from Chief Justice John Roberts. Justice Elena Kagan is recused from the case. Should any portion of the law be upheld, rights groups may pursue further challenges on equal protection grounds.

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