Court Arguments Heard in First Case Against SB 1070

Valeria Fernandez | 7/18/2010, 12:32 p.m.

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Does Arizona's new immigration law mirror federal law or does it go too far, violating the U.S. Constitution? That question was at the heart of the arguments presented Thursday morning in a packed federal courtroom in Phoenix.

The two-hour hearing was the first in a series of six cases being brought against Arizona's controversial new law. The next hearings are set for July 22, when arguments will be heard in two lawsuits against SB 1070, one brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and one by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations. If the judge does not approve the federal government's injunction, the law will go into effect one week later, on July 29.

Outside U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton's courtroom, protesters waved signs against the controversial law that would make it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona. Supporters of the new law displayed posters with the message, "Illegals go home."

Inside the courtroom, Bolton asked questions that illustrated the complexity of the Arizona law in the larger context of national immigration policies.

The plaintiffs in this case are police officer David Salgado and a non-profit organization, Chicanos Por la Causa, which serves the Latino and immigrant community and administers several charter schools.

Bolton questioned attorney Stephen Montoya as to whether his client, Salgado of the Phoenix Police Department, had legal standing to bring the suit. To have the right to initiate the lawsuit, he must be sufficiently affected by the issue.

"There is no question that if officer Salgado does not enforce this law on the 29th, if it goes into effect, he can be disciplined or he can be fired," Montoya responded.

Salgado argues that SB 1070 puts him in the difficult situation of either violating the Constitution by engaging in racial profiling, or facing lawsuits from citizens for not enforcing the law.

"He has a federal right not to discriminate against minorities and he believes this statute requires exactly that," said Montoya.

John Bouma, the legal counsel for the state, dismissed those claims, saying that Salgado did not have standing and that the argument that "anybody can be sued anytime" was not sufficient to demonstrate how the law would harm him. He added that most lawsuits would likely be brought against the law enforcement agency he works for if the law is not enforced properly.

Throughout the hearing, Montoya repeated an argument at the core of all six lawsuits challenging SB 1070: the issue of pre-emption by the federal government when it comes to immigration laws.

Bouma said SB 1070 mirrors federal law.

"You can't make the mirror argument when the government of the United States has taken the extraordinary measure of suing you in federal court," Montoya countered. "The best response to that argument is to laugh."

Bouma said the pre-emption argument is valid only when the state law poses an obstacle to the objectives of U.S. Congress when it comes to immigration.

"This is clearly not the situation here," he said.

Another issue that was raised by the plaintiff was the possible impact that SB 1070 could have on students in schools who come in contact with police officers and may not have an ID.

Bourma countered that argument, saying that the law wasn't focused on students and only would come into play when an individual was arrested.

Bolton was an active participant in the hearing asking thoughtful questions from both parties.

"Does this have the potential to violate the Constitution on reasonableness of detention?" she asked Bourma.

His answer was generic, saying that "public officials are going to do their jobs in an appropriate manner."

Montoya said that it does violate the Constitution and it poses the threat that any U.S. citizen could be detained indefinitely until they could prove that they are in the country legally.

Bolton did not rule on Thursday, but said she would issue a ruling upon advisement on whether or not she would enjoin part of SB 1070, since the attorney plaintiffs only challenged a portion of the law.

On July 22, Bolton will hear arguments in the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and another suit filed by civil rights groups.

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