Please consider the following memorable questions asked by U.S. Supreme Court justices, in the Arizona immigration-law issue:

  • Justice Antonin Scalia: “If somebody who does not belong in this country is in Arizona, Arizona has no power? What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?”

  • Justice Samuel Alito: “That’s what I can’t understand about your argument. You seem to be saying that what’s wrong with the Arizona law is that the Arizona Legislature is trying to control what its employees are doing and they have to be free to disregard the desires of the Arizona Legislature, for whom they work, and follow the priorities of the federal government, for whom they don’t work.”
  • Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (on the Obama administration’s attempt to overrule the Arizona law): “We do think there is a structural accountability problem in that they are enforcing federal law but are not answerable to federal officials.”
  • Justice Sonia Sotomayer (responding to Verrilli): I’m sorry … I’m terribly confused by your answer.”
  • Attorney Paul Clements (representing Arizona): “The state does not need to point to federal authorization for its enforcement efforts. Rather, the burden is on the parties seeking to pre-empt a duly enacted state law. … The United States can’t really do that here, and the reason is obvious.”

That is how the Supreme Court took a dim view of the Obama administration’s effort to hold Arizona’s immigration-crackdown law, with the justices signaling an inclination during oral arguments 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 put at least partly on hold as challenges wind their way through the federal courts.

The New York Times reported: “Hundreds of chanting demonstrators filled the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, denouncing an Arizona immigration law that was under debate inside, saying it would spread fear among Latinos in the state.

“But while the protesters, who also included labor and religious groups, denounced the civil rights abuses they said the law would bring, inside the court questions asked by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. early in the arguments clarified that the case did not directly concern racial profiling or other rights claims. …

“But Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican, emerged from the hearing confident the state would prevail in the court’s ruling, which is expected in June.

“‘I am very, very encouraged that we will get a favorable result,’ she said. She said the justices’ questions showed that ‘we do have sovereignty and we certainly have states’ rights, and we have a responsibility and an obligation to protect our citizens.’

“Ms. Brewer accused the Obama administration of raising racial issues in its challenge to the law for political purposes, ‘trying to use that scare card to generate support for the election.’

“After the hearing, as she was looking for the news media at the base of the court steps, Ms. Brewer instead wandered into the crowd of protesters, who surrounded her for a tense moment, shouting, ‘Shame, shame!’ Eventually she found a location to address the news organizations and departed another way.

“Others who supported Arizona were cheered by the arguments.

“‘The Justice Department was on the ropes,’ said Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, a constitutional lawyer who advised Arizona on writing the law. ‘They were being pressed by the justices to explain the core weakness of their case, and that is there is no federal statute that conflicts with Arizona’s law.'”

This is, therefore, yet another major issue on which our nation’s highest court will deliver a ruling right in the middle of one of the hottest presidential races in U.S. history.

And from the sound of those justices’ questions, it does not seem likely that the Court decision will be at all beneficial to candidate Obama.

A Michael Ramirez cartoon shows a U.S. Border Patrol truck in which one officer asks:

“What’s the most effective tool we have to prevent people from crossing the border?”

To which the second officer replies:


Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.