Arizona Law Requiring Immigration Checks by Police Blocked by Appeal Panel

Arizona can’t enforce its law requiring police officers to determine the immigration status of people stopped for questioning, a federal appeals court ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco today upheld a lower court ruling that barred the central provisions of the law from taking effect.

“By imposing mandatory obligations on state and local officers, Arizona interferes with the federal government’s authority to implement its priorities and strategies in law enforcement, turning Arizona officers into state-directed [Department of Homeland Security] agents,” the appellate panel said.

Today’s ruling may be appealed by Arizona or go back to U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton for a trial on whether to permanently block the law as unconstitutional. Arizona, with the backing of 11 states in court papers, had argued Bolton’s July 28 preliminary order blocking the law should be invalidated.

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the federal government is pleased with the ruling.

While the panel didn’t reach broader constitutional questions raised by the challenge to the law, Judge John T. Noonan Jr. wrote in a separate opinion that “foreign policy is not and cannot be determined by the several states.”

‘Absurdity Too Gross’

“That fifty individual states or one individual state should have a foreign policy is absurdity too gross to be entertained,” he said.

The panel noted that presidents of five Central American and South American countries and governments of others protested the law.

Arizona Governor Janice Brewer, a Republican, has said the law is a response to the federal government’s failure to help the state deal with an influx of illegal immigrants. The statute makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally.

“I remain steadfast in my belief that Arizona and other states have a sovereign right and obligation to protect their citizens and enforce immigration law in accordance with federal statute,” Brewer said today in a joint statement with state Attorney General Tom Horne.

U.S. Supreme Court

Brewer said the state is considering its legal options, including whether to seek reconsideration by an 11-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the injunction imposed by Bolton.

Bolton ruled that Arizona can’t require police officers to try to determine whether someone is legally in the U.S. and then detain that person if they suspect he isn’t. She also blocked a piece of Arizona’s law that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit or perform work. In addition, the ruling barred police officers from making warrantless arrests of people they think might be illegal immigrants.

The case is U.S. v. State of Arizona, 10-16645, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco). The lower court case is U.S. v. State of Arizona, 2:10-cv-1413, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net; Pamela MacLean in federal court in Oakland at pmaclean@pacbell.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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