PHOENIX — A forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law — which some experts believe could uphold the most controversial aspects of the measure — won't end legal disputes on the matter and instead is likely to ignite renewed assaults by the law's opponents.
The court is evaluating the 2010 law on only the question of whether Arizona's attempt to fix its border problems is trumped by federal law. That means that opponents could still ask the courts to block enforcement of the law on other legal grounds.
For example, the high court isn't considering the possibility that racial profiling may arise from the law — because the Obama administration's lawsuit didn't challenge it on those grounds. The administration focused instead on whether federal law supersedes the state law, an issue known as "pre-emption."
"All the court is going to decide is the pre-emption issue," said Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group for low-income immigrants that's part of a coalition of opponents that filed a separate challenge. "But we think this law basically requires racial profiling by mandating that officers detain and investigate people that they have reasonable suspicions of being unauthorized."
The case was argued before the high court in April, and a ruling is expected by the end of June. Legal experts expect that the court likely will uphold Arizona's requirement that police check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons; that provision was put on hold by a judge in July 2010 and hasn't yet been enforced. Less controversial parts of the law were allowed to take effect.
A decision in favor of Arizona could clear the way for other states to enforce immigration-check requirements and create an opening for states to take a larger role in immigration enforcement after mostly staying out of it for decades and letting the federal government handle it alone.
If Arizona wins at the Supreme Court, opponents say they likely would go back to lower courts to seek injunctions on other grounds before any provisions that win approval from the Supreme Court take effect.
They also may ask the courts to block enforcement of the law's most controversial parts by arguing that the law requires police to extend the length of time of traffic stops beyond the permitted time.
"We are preparing for the next step in case of a bad decision," said Andre Segura, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which also is fighting the law in court.