SB 1070 ruling could come soon

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court could rule as early as Monday on Arizona's controversial immigration law: SB 1070. 

The court scheduled a session beginning at 7 a.m. Arizona time which could include its ruling on the Obama administration's challenge to the law.

The justices have indicated a ruling will come down sometime this month.

The administration challenged the law in 2010, and lower courts struck down key provisions of the legislation, including a requirement for local law enforcement to check immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. 

That provision, which can only be exercised if a person is stopped for another reason, has ignited a firestorm of controversy.

Opponents charge it will lead to racial profiling, even though the law specifically prohibits officers from using race as a factor in their decision.

The Obama administration challenge argues SB 1070 "pre-empts" federal law, by going beyond the scope of federal immigration law already in effect. 

The bill's chief sponsor, former state senator Russell Pearce, has said the law is designed to mirror federal law.

During arguments before the court in April, justices hammered Obama administration attorney Donald Verrilli with tough questions, and appeared unconvinced of his argument. At one point, Justice Sonia Sotomayor even admonished Verrilli, saying "you're not selling this very well." 

That hard line of questioning has lead a number of court watchers to expect the high court will overturn those lower court rulings, and possibly even allow the law to go into effect in its entirety.

Opponents have said they are already preparing new legal challenges to the law.

New York Senator Charles Schumer indicated he will sponsor legislation making it illegal for states to pass their own immigration laws. State Senator Steve Gallardo is spearheading an effort to overturn the law through a statewide referendum.

The political ramifications are expected to resonate in a presidential election year.

Supporters of SB 1070 have charged the Obama administration brought the challenge to mobilize latino voters, especially in states like Arizona, where Republicans have the most registered voters, but independents and newly registered latino voters could put the state "in play."

If the court lets the lower court rulings stand, or strikes down the law as a whole, political experts predict a backlash against the Obama administration for its refusal to strictly enforce immigration law.

In Arizona, immigration has been a key issue in the U.S. Senate race, with political newcomer Wil Cardon attacking his opponent, six-term congressman Jeff Flake, in a series of TV ads charging Flake is soft on immigration and sided with the Obama administration. Flake has said the U.S. needs to focus on securing the border before making any other changes in immigration policy.

The law may have played a role in the faltering political career of its author, former state senator Russell Pearce. Pearce was ousted from office in a historic recall election last November. Recall organizers labeled it a backlash against his hardline stance on immigration. Pearce is now running for state senate in a different legislative district. 

It is also possible the court could strike down some provisions and leave others in place. 

That split decision could leave both sides declaring victory. The court has yet to issue rulings in two other key cases -- a discrimination case against Wal-Mart, and the challenge to President Obama's healthcare law. 

It's expected the court will rule on those cases before it rules on the Arizona case.

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