Supreme Court Asks White House to Take a Stance on State Immigration Laws

Supreme Court, by Sam Ruaat/FlickrThe U.S. Supreme Court wants the Obama administration to offer its opinion on state immigration laws, an issue that the White House has largely tried to avoid. The high court asked the White House on Monday for an opinion in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce challenge to an Arizona law that punishes businesses for hiring undocumented immigrants.

The Chamber of Commerce, supported by groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, filed suit against a law Arizona passed in 2007 that requires employers to use an employee verification system and penalizes those who knowingly hire people without proper documentation. A Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona law could affect other states that have taken the issue into their own hands in response to what many see as federal inaction on immigration reform.

Michael Doyle, of McClatchy Newspapers, reported the Chamber’s attorney Carter Phillips wrote in a legal brief: “This case involves a question of exceptional national importance: whether state legislatures and municipal governments may override Congress’ judgment concerning United States immigration policy.”

The legal landscape of immigration has become increasingly chaotic, with local and state governments introducing and passing bills aimed at solving the perceived problems caused by an influx of immigrants, especially those without documents.

Doyle wrote:

“Phillips noted that ‘in the first three months of 2009 alone, over 1,000 immigration-related bills and resolutions were introduced, in all 50 states, and at least 150 of these bills related specifically to employment.

He called the result ‘a cacophony.'”

According to Dow Jones Newswires, the Chamber challenged the Arizona law because it says it goes against the intent of the federal laws passed by Congress in 1986. Both the district court and the appeals court that ruled in the case disagreed with that position. Still, the appeals court said that the Arizona law “reflects rising frustration with the United States Congress’ failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform,” Doyle reported.

Arizona is one of at least two states that have made the e-Verify employee verification system mandatory. It’s also a testing ground of sorts for harsh immigration initiatives, such as the recently revived proposal to pass a trespassing measure against undocumented immigrants.

As Doyle noted, the fact that the Solicitor General now has to file an opinion presents a thorny issue for the administration, since Obama said during the campaign that immigration reform should be passed to prevent states and municipalities from taking on the enforcement role. The Arizona law in question was signed by then-Governor Janet Napolitano, now U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

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