The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will take up the issue of state-based immigration enforcement in 2012, setting up a major showdown over the future course of U.S. immigration policy. The justices will hear arguments, pro and con, over the constitutionality of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, but the case is likely to set a precedent that determines the fate of other, similar laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah.
“A Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona law would be a game changer,” said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. “For good or for bad, we will find out whether the states have the authority to regulate immigration. We could be looking at an entirely different playing field. The OAN will be watching the case, and all related developments, very closely.”
The Arizona law, passed and signed into law in 2010, made it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant. The U.S. Department of Justice under President Obama objected to the law, stating that immigration is properly a federal issue. Key employment groups have made the same contention for years, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and the American Nursery and Landscape Association. All have argued for comprehensive federal reform and against enforcement-only solutions, whether they come from the feds, the states, counties or city governments.
A federal court sided with the administration, blocking key provisions of the Arizona law. Later the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court, setting the stage for an appeal to Supreme Court. The Supreme Court isn’t obligated to hear arguments in any case. The decision to reconsider the Arizona law therefore was considered a setback for the administration and by extension, those favoring comprehensive reform.
Arguments will be heard by eight of the nine justices. The newest justice on the court, Elena Kagan, will recuse herself because she earlier worked on the issue as a DOJ employee. Her recusal raises the possibility of a 4-4 tie on the court, which would allow the lower court ruling to stand. Lyle Denniston of Bloomberg’s SCOTUSblog has an in-depth analysis of the case.