Justice Sotomayor Provides Big Surprise in Arizona Immigration Law Arguments

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The Obama administration may be facing two setbacks this June, compliments of the United States Supreme Court. Early in oral arguments, it appears the justices favor upholding Arizona’s controversial immigration law, that is challenged by the federal government. The federal government’s contention being that immigration law is their responsibility under the Constitution.

Judicial experts either hearing the arguments in person or reading the transcripts agree that the nature of the justices’ sharp questioning shows a disposition towards Arizona’s proposed immigration law. That observation can be construed through questions including this one by Justice Antonin Scalia: “What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?”

The question goes directly to the heart of the Arizona argument that its 2010 law is necessary because of the federal government’s failure to secure and protect the U.S. – Mexico border along the 370 mile portion within a southern landscape, that includes over a thousand miles collectively in Texas, New Mexico and California.

Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court justice

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Arizona’s statute, SB 1070, gives state and local law enforcement the right to verify the legal status of anyone stopped if there is “reasonable suspicion” the individual is in the country illegally. Washington D.C. Attorney, Paul Clement, representing Arizona, argued that the state is doing little more than providing local police the help they need in lieu of the federal government’s failure to enforce the immigration laws.

Donald Verrill, speaking for the United States argument, contended that the state law was a “thinly veiled” attempt to scatter illegals in Arizona back to Mexico, which does not comply with federal law. He labeled the practice as “harassment” and unfair to the largely legal Latino population of 2 million residing in the state.

His questioning by the justices dwelled on whether Arizona’s law is a hindrance to federal authority or complements their efforts with reinforcing backup. “it is not an effort to enforce federal law,” Chief Justice John Roberts told Verrill, but rather “It is an effort to let you know about violations of federal law. Whether or not to enforce them is still entirely up to you.”

The revealing questions indicate Arizona’s argument is sounding an alarm to the justices.

The federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally

Chief Justice Roberts later made the observation that, “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not.”

The ironic part of the day’s arguments was the almost lackadaisical attitude of the liberal court justices. Obama appointee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, commenting in reference to Verrill’s argument said, “You can see it’s not selling very well. Why don’t you try to come up with something else.”

This is telling criticism, from one of five justices the government needs to upend the Arizona law as unconstitutional.

A decision in the case is expected this June. It may become a very bad month for the Obama administration since it piggybacks another Supreme Court decision that month: Obamacare.

Dwight L. Schwab Jr. is a moderate conservative who looks at all sides of a story, then speaks his mind. His BS in journalism from University of Oregon, with minors in political science and American history stands him in good stead for his writing.

Dwight has 30 years in the publishing industry, including ABC/Cap Cities and International Thomson. A native of Portland, Oregon, and now a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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