The Supreme Court justices on Wednesday signaled they would let Arizona enforce its controversial immigration law, with both liberal and conservative members of the court sounding skeptical of the Obama administration's claims that the law is an overreach of state authority.
The Hill reported:
The ideologically diverse group of justices pummeled Solicitor General Donald Verrilli with a morning full of questions, expressing serious doubts to the government’s claim that Arizona cannot require state law enforcement officials to verify a person’s legal status when they’re stopped on suspicion of committing a separate offense.
“You can see it's not selling very well,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman to be seated on the bench, to Verrilli after the solicitor general had delivered a significant portion of his argument. “I’m terribly confused by your answer.”
According to the Washington Post, Chief Justice John Roberts asked Verrilli "what could possibly be wrong" with Arizona officers checking the legal status of a detained person and passing the information on to the federal government -- if federal authorities don't want to pursue deportation, they don't have to, Roberts said.
Justice Antonin Scalia seemed particularly in favor of the law, asking at one point, “What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the authority to defend your borders?” according to Politico.
But it wasn't entirely smooth-sailing for the law's proponents, the Post reported:
The justices seemed to have more concerns with other portions of Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which has led to similar attempted crackdowns in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and Indiana.
That could lead to the court to allow some parts of the Arizona law to go into effect, but restrict others.
Roberts told Paul D. Clement, the former Bush administration solicitor general who is representing Arizona, that the state seemed to have authorized “significantly greater sanctions” than the federal immigration law allows by imposing criminal penalties on immigrants who seek work.
Clement acknowledged the federal government places the burden on employers with illegal workers but said that did not mean states could not impose sanctions on the employees themselves.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case due to her past involvement with it as Obama's solicitor general, opening up the possibility of a 4-4 deadlock. If such a split were to happen, the previous appeals court decision would stand, and S.B. 1070 would not take effect.
The court is expected to announce its final decision in June.