A three-judge appeals panel, in a ruling released on Monday, held that a federal judge did not abuse her authority when she blocked provisions of the Arizona law that targeted illegal immigration.
The panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down a request by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who asked the jurists to lift an injunction imposed by U.S. District Judge Judge Susan Bolton the day before the law was to go into effect on July 29.
Among the controversial aspects of the law was a requirement that local police check the immigration status of anyone they detain during an investigation.
The original law was enacted in April 2010 after Arizona officials argued that they needed their own law to deal with the growing problem of unauthorized immigration from Mexico, which shares a border with Arizona. In general, the law establishes a variety of immigration-related actions as state offenses and defines how local and state officials can enforce the measure.
The law immediately sparked boycotts and protests across the nation as immigration activists argued that Arizona was trying to usurp a federal prerogative to define immigration rules and had proposed unconstitutional actions that would lead to profiling and the harassment of Latinos.
The Obama administration's Justice Department sued to block the law from going into effect. It argued that the federal government had the responsibility for immigration law, and the appellate panel agreed in the ruling released on Monday.
"We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion" by enjoining key sections of the law, adding: "Therefore, we affirm the district court's preliminary injunction order."
Sitting on the panel were Justices John T. Noonan, Richard A. Paez and Carlos T. Bea. Paez wrote the opinion and Noonan concurred. Bea's opinion was a partial concurrence and a partial dissent, according to the 87-page opinion.
In her action, Bolton blocked the requirement that authorities examine immigration status of those they detain. She also blocked the provision requiring immigrants to carry identification papers that would establish the legal residency of those stopped. That identification could include a valid Arizona driver's license or some form of "valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification."
Bolton had also blocked the provision that made it illegal for people to seek work in public places without proper documents.
Immigration reform has been a touchy political issue for years. Conservatives in 2007 blocked a reform plan pushed by President Bush, a Republican.
Obama, a Democrat, has not fared any better than his predecessor despite calls from civil rights advocates to deal with the issue.