The Supreme Court appeared likely to uphold Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, Wednesday. The law being challenged by the Obama Justice Department requires police to check a person’s immigration status when they arrest someone.
The law also imposes severe restrictions on illegal immigrants who attempt to apply for jobs.
Lower courts blocked the law because they held that it interfered with the federal government’s right to set immigration policy.
“It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, according to the Washington Times.
Justice Antonin Scalia chided the administration asking why a state doesn’t have the right to close its borders to people who don’t have a right to be there.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and the law’s architect, former State Senate President Russell Pearce, were present in the packed courtroom.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli argued that the state law is unconstitutional because it requires police to detain illegal immigrants and because it would interfere with federal government priorities.
The solicitor general even ran into trouble from Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Hispanic female justice, who reprimanded him saying that his argument against mandating that Arizona police check an arrested person’s immigration status “is not selling well.”
Roberts and Justice Kennedy indicated they had some reservations about the law because they seemed to clash with federal law.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the hearing because she had worked on the case for the administration as solicitor general.
With Kagan absent, it will come down to the remaining eight justices to decide the case, and should the court deadlock in a 4-4 decision, the lower court’s ruling striking down the law would be upheld.
The ruling likely will have an impact on the presidential election because presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has signaled that he favored parts requiring employers to verify their employees’ immigration statuses. According to Politico, the law could affect the races in states such as Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, which have large Hispanic populations.
If Obama loses the case, it could serve as a platform for Obama to give Hispanics an additional reason to vote Democratic.
The rhetoric outside of the court was equally heated, with competing protests from supporters and opponents of the law.
The court will hand down its decision in June.