Appeals court upholds block on parts of Ariz. law
By Jerry Markon, Monday, April 11, 2:51 PM
A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the most contested provisions of Arizona’s immigration law will remain blocked from taking effect, handing the Obama administration a victory in its efforts to overturn the legislation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that put on hold key provisions of the Arizona law, which empowers police to question people whom they have a “reasonable suspicion” are illegal immigrants. The measure has triggered a fierce national debate.
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.
Judge Carlos T. Bea dissented from parts of the decision.
The decision, the first appellate action on the much debated law that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed in April, is significant, experts said. But it is also one of the first steps in a legal struggle expected to play out over several years. Brewer has vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and could appeal Monday’s decision to the full 9th Circuit.
A spokesman for Brewer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the department is “pleased with the court’s decision.’’
In her July ruling, Bolton blocked provisions of the Arizona law that would require police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws, would allow for warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants and would criminalize the failure of immigrants to carry registration papers. Civil rights groups and federal lawyers had objected to those provisions in particular, while Arizona officials defended them as necessary to fight a tide of illegal immigration.
Bolton allowed other provisions to take effect, including one making it a crime to stop a car to pick up day laborers.
The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in July 2010, was a rare assertion of federal power that sets up a clash with a state on one of the nation’s most divisive political issues. The lawsuit said the Arizona measure conflicts with federal law, would disrupt immigration enforcement and would lead to police harassment of those who cannot prove their lawful status.
Lawmakers across the country had vowed to copy Arizona’s strict crackdown, but state budget deficits coupled with the federal challenge and the political backlash at the law, have made passage of such statutes uncertain. email@example.com