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By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
April 25, 2012
The Supreme Court took a dim view of the Obama administration’s effort to halt Arizona’s immigration-crackdown law, with the justices signaling an inclination during oral arguments Wednesday to approve requiring police to check the status of those suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
At stake is not only Arizona’s law but those in a handful of other states that followed Arizona’s lead over the past two years — all of which have been put at least partly on hold as challenges wind their way through the federal courts.
While the justices seemed inclined to let the police immigration checks stand — as long as they don’t substantially increase the amount of time citizens and legal immigrants are detained — the fate of the other contentious provisions was less clear. At root, the battle came down to whether Arizona is trying to help or hinder the federal government’s immigration policy.
“The framers vested in the national government the authority over immigration because they understood that the way this nation treats citizens of other countries is a vital aspect of our foreign relations,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the government’s top constitutional lawyer, told the court.
But several justices said when it came to the immigration checks, it appeared Arizona was only trying to help. “It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said at one point.
A decision is expected before the end of the court’s term in June.
Just eight justices were present for the arguments. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, presumably because she was the Obama administration’s solicitor general in 2010, when the law was being debated in Arizona.
In one pointed exchange, Justice Antonin Scalia said Arizona’s law doesn’t target anyone the federal government hasn’t already decided shouldn’t be in the U.S. He said the administration is trying to force Arizona to heel to the administration’s own priorities — in which Mr. Obama has called for deporting some categories of illegal immigrants while leaving others untouched — rather than to what U.S. law actually says.