Court Rejects Claim That U.S. Is Liable for Immigrant Costs


The Supreme Court, despite its states’ rights sympathies, rejected a claim from California and Arizona on Monday that sought to hold the U.S. government liable for an “invasion” of illegal immigrants crossing the nation’s borders.

Gov. Pete Wilson sought a court order forcing the federal government to pay costs caused by the estimated 1.7 million illegal immigrants in the state. California’s burden is by far the nation’s largest, he said. Its population includes at least 43% of all illegal immigrants living in the United States, and 125,000 new immigrants are added each year.

Though unhappy with the outcome, lawyers for the two states need not think that they were singled out for rejection. The high court said no to more than 1,500 appeals on the opening day of its term.

In general, the justices vote to hear cases only when they raise a legal question that has divided the lower courts. Even a momentous issue is usually ignored until such a split has developed.


Monday’s list of rejected appeals left intact scores of important lower court rulings.

In California, they include a state Supreme Court decision that allows job applicants, but not current workers, to be tested for drugs. And a federal ruling allows a Los Angeles television station to be sued for copyright infringement for broadcasting dramatic news footage during the 1992 riots that had been shot by an independent cameraman.

In a case of national significance, the Federal Election Commission suffered a setback in its effort to limit campaign spending.



The justices let stand a ruling that allows corporations and interest groups to spend money freely to put out information on candidates and their positions. If the information stops short of saying “vote for . . ,” it is protected free speech, the U.S. appeals court in Boston said.

Between 1989 and 1995, when the lawsuit in the immigration case was filed, the state paid $1.8 billion for emergency medical care for illegal immigrants and an additional $3.3 billion to lock up immigrants who were convicted of felonies, Wilson said.

The lawsuit cited Article 4 of the Constitution, which says that the United States “shall protect each of [the states] against invasion.”

But U.S. District Judge Judith Keep in San Diego and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco threw out the lawsuit on grounds that California and Arizona are not being “invaded” by a hostile, foreign power.

The issue of who pays for immigrants is a political issue, not a legal one, they said.

The states also have been faring better on the political front. Congress added $500 million a year in 1996 and 1997 to help the states pay for crime and prison costs of illegal immigrants, the government noted. For California, this federal aid has jumped from $33 million in 1994 to $292 million this year.

Without comment, the high court simply denied the appeals in the two cases (Arizona vs. United States, 96-1595, and California vs. United States, 96-1596).

In Sacramento, Wilson said that he was disappointed by the outcome but that the lawsuit succeeded in “raising national attention about this continuing injustice.”


The drug testing case came from Glendale. In 1986, the city adopted a policy that required job applicants and employees being promoted into new positions to take a urine test for alcohol and illegal drugs. The policy applied to everyone. It did not single out those in safety-related jobs, such as police officers, nor was it triggered by any suspicion of wrongdoing.

In January, the state Supreme Court handed down a split decision on its constitutionality. Job applicants have a minimal privacy right, the state court said, and can be tested. Employees who have jobs and seek promotions cannot be.

The losing parties on both sides appealed, but the high court denied the appeals (Loder vs. Glendale, 96-1614, and Glendale vs. Loder, 96-1814).

In the TV news case, KCAL-TV Channel 9 argued that a news report on a copyrighted work is a “fair use” of such material and therefore protected from a copyright infringement suit.

A husband-and-wife team, Bob and Marika Tur, operate the Los Angeles New Service and sell news photos and videotapes to local media. On April 29, 1992, Marika Tur was in a helicopter over the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues in South-Central Los Angeles and shot footage of the beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny.

The footage was licensed to KCOP, which broadcast it. Channel 9 was refused the use of the footage but apparently received a tape from another station and broadcast it on its evening news program.

A federal judge in Los Angeles originally ruled for KCAL, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with the independent news team in March. It ruled that the repeated broadcast of the dramatic footage was a commercial use of copyrighted work and therefore subject to an infringement suit.

The case (KCAL vs. Los Angeles News Service, 96-2040) may now go to a jury.



In the Federal Election Commission case, the court rejected the agency’s effort to restrict certain political ads.

In the past, the court has said that the commission can regulate spending that is directed at electing candidates, including ads that say “Vote for. . . .” It cannot regulate more general “issue advocacy.”

In 1995, the Maine Right to Life Committee challenged a new commission regulation that sought to cover ads and publications that could be seen as “encouraging actions to elect or defeat” a candidate. The antiabortion group published voting records of lawmakers on abortion issues.

A federal judge and a U.S. appeals court agreed that the election agency’s expanded definition violated the 1st Amendment and the high court rejected the Justice Department’s appeal (Federal Election Commission vs. Maine Right to Life Committee, 96-1818).

In other actions, the court:

* Refused for the third time to consider a gay serviceman’s challenge to the military’s policy that allows for the discharge of men or women who admit that they are homosexuals (Richenberg vs. Cohen, 96-1648).

* Refused to order release of a videotape of President Clinton’s testimony in a trial involving his Whitewater business partners. The tape has been shown in open court and a transcript has been released, but a judge refused to make the tape public (Citizens United vs. United States, 96-1788).

* Allowed a Washington state newspaper to enforce a rule against reporters engaging in political activity (Nelson vs. McClatchy Newspapers, 97-187). Sandra Nelson, a lesbian activist, used her off-duty hours to volunteer for a series of campaigns involving feminist and civil rights issues. A state law protects most employees from being discriminated against because of their political stands.

However, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the newspaper when it removed Nelson from a reporting job, ruling that it had a free-press right to insist on neutrality and objectivity in its journalists.



Supreme Court hears arguments in showdown between banks and credit unions. D3.


Times staff writer Dan Morain in Sacramento contributed to this story.