Arizona immigration law gets its day in San Francisco court
SAN FRANCISCO — The legal battle over Arizona’s immigration law is coming to the Bay Area on Monday, featuring a cast of characters that includes Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a panel of three federal judges and an unknown number of protesters who promise a parade of funereal pageantry.
A day before the midterm elections and the morning after Halloween, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments for and against Senate Bill 1070, the attempt by Arizona lawmakers to crack down on illegal immigration in their state.
The Obama administration took the Arizona law to court in July, arguing that the legislation interferes with federal immigration prerogatives and violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to make immigration law. Before SB 1070 could take effect, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton put its most controversial provisions on hold, including one that required police officers to check the immigration status of people they pull over.
An hourlong hearing Monday will allow both sides — Arizona state attorneys and the U.S. Department of Justice — to present their initial arguments before a panel of three judges. Those judges will rule, in the coming weeks or months, whether Arizona can go forward with the law.
The case is being held in San Francisco because it is the location of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the arbiter of federal appeals cases in nine western states, including arizona.
Brewer, who signed and has championed the law, is flying to San Francisco today, attending the 9 a.m. hearing, then returning home hours later to continue her re-election campaign in Arizona, her aides said. Polls show the Republican incumbent governor leading in the race against the state’s Democratic attorney general, Terry Goddard.
Anti-1070 demonstrators will also add their voices to the mix, carrying skeletons and flowers on a procession down Mission Street to the downtown federal courthouse. Inspired by the Latin American holiday Day of the Dead, which will be celebrated on Tuesday, activists said the imagery is meant to symbolize how immigration enforcement separates families and contributes to the deaths of migrants trying to cross the border.
Opponents of the law say it allows and encourages police to racially profile Latinos and other people who appear to be immigrants. Proponents say the federal government is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration in Arizona.
“The state, I think, will be arguing that what they are trying to do is simply enforce federal law,” said Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which opposes the Arizona law and has filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the Obama administration. “Their argument is they are tired of waiting for immigration reform from Congress, and basically are taking matters in their own hands.”
Participants in the case have already begun speculating about the outlook of the three-judge panel based on their past cases and life experience. Judges Carlos Bea and John Noonan were both nominated by Republican presidents, and Richard Paez by a Democrat. Bea is a Spanish immigrant who said he was almost wrongfully deported decades ago, according to Arizona’s Capitol Media Services. Paez is the son of Mexican immigrants.
“Some people have said it’s a bad panel for Arizona,” said Wydra, a former clerk in the San Francisco court. “I think that’s simply a reflection of how strong (the Department of Justice) argument is. The Constitution very clearly gives the federal government power over immigration law.”