Alabama Will Seek State Supreme Court’s Opinion in Immigration Lawsuit
Alabama asked a U.S. judge to refer to the state’s highest court the question of how two provisions of its newly passed immigration law must be interpreted in light of a state constitution’s protection of religious freedom.
Governor Robert Bentley’s administration filed the request late yesterday with U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn, chief judge of the Birmingham-based court, in a case challenging the law slated to take effect on Sept. 1.
Religious leaders, the U.S. government and a coalition of immigrant and labor organizations have sued to invalidate the law in a trio of cases now consolidated before Blackburn.
“A proper construction from the Supreme Court of Alabama may moot the entire litigation,” the state said in its filing.
The measure requires police to verify the immigration status of people they stop who they suspect may be in the U.S. illegally. Businesses must use E-Verify, a federal database, to determine whether job applicants are eligible to work. The act also makes it a crime to rent housing to or transport illegal immigrants.
Leaders of Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches representing 338,000 Alabama residents filed their complaint on Aug. 1, alleging that the new law prevents the free exercise of religion.
Alabama, in its filing, argues that the U.S. Constitution bars Blackburn from reconciling the interplay of the state constitution’s religious freedom provision and parts of the new law that prohibit the harboring and transporting of illegal immigrants and limits the enforceability of contracts with them.
The state has asked the judge to “certify to the Supreme Court of Alabama” the question of what the challenged immigration law provisions mean in light of the state constitution’s Religious Freedom Amendment.
“This suggests to me they know they have significant issues with this act and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” which also guarantees religious freedom, one of the Episcopal Diocese’s attorneys, Augusta Dowd, said today in a phone interview.
“I read their filing to acknowledge they do believe it to be illegal” under federal law. The federal court has jurisdiction to decide a constitutional question and the case should not be moved to an Alabama court to be considered under the Alabama Constitution, she said.
Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, declined to comment on the Alabama filing.
The case is U.S. v. State of Alabama, 11-cv-02746, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).
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