Federal Appeals Court Upholds Injunction Against Arizona Immigration Law
Back in July, a Federal District Court Judge enjoined Arizona from enforcing the key provisions of its controversial immigration law, specially those that authorized local police to require suspected illegal immigrants to provide immigration papers even without a valid arrest. Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction in an appeal that the state had filed almost immediately after the decision:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled that lower federal court judge was right in her decision to halt parts of Senate Bill 1070 from going into effect last year.
The ruling comes almost a year after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the nation’s toughest immigration law into effect and five months after the appeals court was asked to consider overturning the injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton in the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The original lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of SB 1070, arguing that immigration regulation is the jurisdiction of the federal government and not the state.
Bolton imposed the injunction on four parts of the law: clauses that require that police check the immigration status of anyone they stop and then hold them until their status is verified – no matter how long it takes; she agreed that state law requiring immigrants to carry immigration papers may be pre-empted by federal law and that police officers could not determine whether a person had committed an offense that could lead to deportation; and she questioned a statute barring illegal immigrants from seeking jobs.
During the appeals court hearing in November, the three federal judges peppered lawyers on both sides with testy rapid-fire legal questions.
One judge asked Arizona’s lawyer, John Bouma, how the state could enforce federal law. “If I don’t pay my federal income tax, can the state make me?” the judge asked.
The appellate panel seemed not to have problems with police officers asking about immigration status, but struggled with the notion implicit in the law that detainees could be held indefinitely while their immigration status was confirmed.
The judges also questioned how a law enforcement officer could determine what constitutes a removable offense.
In the 2-1 decision, the court found that U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton “did not abuse” her discretion in blocking parts of that law that would, among other things, require police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws.
The court ruled only on whether Bolton’s order should be upheld, not on whether the Arizona measure is legal, and the Justice Department’s move to have the entire law declared unconstitutional will proceed. But the judges gave strong indications that they accept the administration’s argument that the legislation is unconstitutional and would rule that way in the end.
“The Arizona statute before us has become a symbol,” Judge Richard A. Paez wrote in the majority opinion. “For those sympathetic to immigrants to the United States, it is a challenge and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt.”
Paez, joined by Judge John T. Noonan, used strong language as he appeared to endorse the administration’s position that Arizona’s law intrudes on federal immigration enforcement and is “preempted” by federal law.
“Arizona has attempted to hijack a discretionary role that Congress delegated to the Executive,” the decision said, adding that the Arizona law would “usurp” the U.S. attorney general’s role in directing any state enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The opinion is embedded below, and the Court for the most part accepts the reasoning that Judge Bolton employed in her decision in July. At this point, the state can ask for an en banc hearing on the injunction, or appeal it to the Supreme Court. While the ruling on the injunction doesn’t necessarily indicate what might happen to the merits of the case, it doesn’t seem to bode well for the law’s fate on appeal if and when that happens.