States seek to delay action on immigration laws

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2011 5:23 PM
States seek to delay action on immigration laws

After the U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to rule on Arizona's controversial law targeting illegal immigrants, some states with similar statutes asked Thursday for delayed legal action on their laws pending the high court's decision.

The Supreme Court said Monday it would review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked parts of the Arizona law. One part requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect the person is in the country illegally.

The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law, arguing that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states. Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also face lawsuits filed by both the federal government and activist groups. Civil liberties and immigrant rights groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana.

Alabama and Georgia on Thursday asked a federal appeals court to delay court hearings on the challenges set for early next year before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals. South Carolina asked that its law be allowed to take effect.

"It is clear that the Supreme Court's ruling in Arizona's case will be relevant to the 11th Circuit's consideration of our appeal," said Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange echoed his sentiments and added his support for Arizona.

"Alabama has supported Arizona in its legal effort from the beginning, and Alabama will continue to vigorously support Arizona as the case moves to the Supreme Court," he said.

Sam Brooke, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is one of the parties challenging the law, said the organization's reaction to the motions by Alabama and Georgia is divided.

The law in Alabama "is continuing to cause havoc in our state because several provisions have been permitted to go into effect, and are in effect today. We oppose any request that these harms be permitted to continue, and oppose Alabama's request for a stay," he said. "Since the parts we challenged are enjoined in Georgia, we did not oppose the request for a stay by Georgia."

In South Carolina, Attorney General Alan Wilson requested that that state's law be allowed to go into effect Jan. 1 as scheduled. Opponents have asked a federal judge to halt the law until legal challenges by activist groups and the federal government can be resolved. A hearing for a preliminary injunction blocking the law is set for Monday.

"A ruling by the Supreme Court in Arizona is likely to resolve most or all of the issues" in the South Carolina case, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson wrote in the motion. He added it "would be an understatement" to say the issues before the high court are of importance to the South Carolina case.

Lawyers involved in the South Carolina case said they opposed delaying action.

"We are opposing the motion to stay the case, since if the law is permitted to go into effect on Jan. 1 it would cause irreparable harm, and in any event rulings in the cases currently pending at the Supreme Court will not be dispositive of the issues in this case," said Linton Joaquin with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Utah attorney general's office said Thursday it doesn't plan to seek a delay.

"We will ask the courts to hear the lawsuit immediately but the Department of Justice will likely oppose our motion to have it heard immediately," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he's still considering whether to seek a stay in that state's case.

"It's a welcomed development that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Arizona case to provide the only real guidance coming out of Washington on the issue of immigration," Zoeller said.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately return a call or email seeking comment Thursday.


Associated Press writers Lynn DeBruin in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C., and Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis, Ind., contributed to this report.