Protesters gathered at the steps of the Supreme Court yesterday morning holding signs with slogans like "Thank you Arizona," "SB1070 supports federal immigration law, President Obama doesn't," and "Standing on the side of love."
Meanwhile, inside, the panel of eight* peppered Solicitor General Donald Verrilli with pointed questions about why "the federal government just doesn't want to know who is here illegally or not," as Chief Justice Roberts put it. At one point Justice Scalia inquired, "What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?" Even the liberal bloc's Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked that the federal government's argument was "not selling very well."
Yesterday's oral argument before the Supreme Court over Arizona's controversial SB 1070 caps off what has been one of the most dynamic terms in recent memory. The Court, which is expected to release its opinion sometime in June, will have to decide four difficult questions that highlight the inherent tension between states and the federal government:
1. Can police ask for documentation at traffic stops?
2. Is it a crime for a person to be in Arizona illegally?
3. Is it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work?
4. Can police arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant if they deem "probable cause"?
The stakes were raised after Arizona's governor signed SB 1070 into law two years ago, as five other states have since followed suit (Alablama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah). As I mentioned in a post back in December 2011, the circuit courts have struggled to balance the Constitution's reservation of rights to the states, particularly in matters of law enforcement, with the Constitution's delegation of authority to the federal government over matters of foreign policy and naturalization. You can read more about the resulting circuit split here.
The New York Times has posted a transcript of yesterday's oral argument in Arizona v. United States here. And here is a video of Paul Clement, the attorney representing the State of Arizona, addressing the media following oral argument:
Reason.com's Damon Root, who attended Wednesday's oral argument in Arizona v. United States, offers the following summary of yesterday's debate:
*Justice Kagan disqualified herself from the case presumably because of her work on the matter as the solicitor general.