The Supreme Court, dealing a setback to the Obama administration, said Monday it will consider reviving Arizona’s law that targets illegal immigrants and gives more enforcement power to local police.
President Obama’s lawyers had urged the court to steer clear of the dispute, but the justices instead agreed to hear Arizona’s contention that states have leeway to question and detain illegal aliens.
Justice Elena Kagan, formerly Obama’s solicitor general, said she would sit out the case.
The court’s announcement sets the stage for another decision next summer on a political hot-button issue that has divided Obama and Republicans.
Last month, the court agreed to hear an appeal brought by 26 Republican-led states and decide on the constitutionality of the healthcare law championed by the president.
The immigration case involves a clash between the federal authorities and several Republican-led states over who can enforce the laws against illegal immigrants.
Arizona lawmakers, frustrated by what they called the federal government’s failure to enforce the immigration laws, passed their own enforcement measure. Known as SB 1070, it included several provisions that require the police to check the immigration status of persons who were stopped. Officers were to detain those who could not show evidence they were legal residents.
Shortly after the measure became law, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in Phoenix, arguing that state measure conflicted with the federal government’s exclusive authority to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked much of the Arizona law from taking effect, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her decision on a 2-1 vote.
In August, Gov. Jan Brewer appealed to the high court. She said the federal authorities had trampled on the state’s turf.
Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general, represented Arizona and argued that the states have an “inherent police power” to enforce laws within their own borders.
Current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, urged the court last month to turn down Arizona’s appeal.
The justices instead said they will hear the case of Arizona vs. United States and are likely to set the arguments for April. The court’s eventual ruling is likely to determine the fate of similar immigration laws adopted in the past year by Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.