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Supreme Court to hear immigration law challenge Wednesday

Lawmakers in Florida have considered new immigration laws during the past two sessions, without passing legislation on the issue. Meanwhile, as this blog has previously reported, a number of states of enacted legislation that has received various levels of review in federal court litigation.

Arizona's immigration legislation is scheduled for oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. The federal government has challenged the state law in federal court, essentially claiming that immigration law is solely the responsibility of the federal government and that allowing states to enact their own piecemeal immigration measure would lead to havoc and could cause foreign relations problems for the U.S. government.

While Florida has not recently passed an immigration measure, lawmakers and authorities in the state are closely watching the outcome of the current Supreme Court immigration law case.

In fact, Florida has joined roughly 15 other states in filing a brief in the current case supporting the individual state's rights to enact state immigration laws. Eleven states and 41 countries have filed brief with the Supreme Court to support the federal government's position.

A law professor at Florida International University law school says that, "The stakes are high" in the current case before the country's highest court. She reportedly told the Palm Beach Post that the high court ruling would not only potentially set binding nationwide precedent, but interaction between police and people in local communities, particularly Latinos and other minorities, could be affected by the Supreme Court decision.

The case has the potential to result in non-binding precedent, however, as Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from considering the issue due to her previous role as solicitor general in the Obama Administration. Her recusal could lead to a 4-4 vote in the high court. If that were to happen, the lower court ruling would stand, but national questions may remain open at the Supreme Court level.

The disputed sections of Arizona's law that are at issue in the high court include a section that requires local law enforcement in Arizona to determine the immigration status of any person during an encounter with police should an officer have a "reasonable suspicion" that the person may be an undocumented immigrant.

Arizona's strict state immigration law also makes it a crime for a person to look for a job, to hold a job, or essentially be present in that state without proper documentation to prove the person is in the U.S. legally. Federal law treats such issues as a civil infraction, not a crime.

The Arizona measure goes further to allow state and local law enforcement officers to make warrantless arrests expressly for the purpose of bringing the arrestee in for removal and deportation proceedings, something currently under federal immigration authority's duties.

Arizona claims that the state law does not conflict with federal law, but merely acts to help federal officials enforce federal law. The federal government claims that federal law preempts state authority to pass such a law.

A Supreme Court decision is expected in June.

Source: Palm Beach Post, "Florida watches as Supreme Court set to hear state of Arizona argue immigration laws," John Lantigua, April 22, 2012

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