WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court stepped into the fight Monday over a tough Arizona law that requires local police to help enforce federal immigration laws, pushing the court deeper into hot, partisan issues of the 2012 election campaign.
The court’s election-year docket now contains three politically charged disputes, including President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and Texas redistricting.
The debate over immigration already is shaping presidential politics, and now the court is undertaking a review of an Arizona law that has spawned a host of copycat state laws targeting illegal immigrants.
The court will review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked several provisions in the Arizona law. One of those requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person’s immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally.
The case is the court’s biggest foray into immigration law in decades, said Temple University law professor Peter Spiro, an expert in that area.
The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law by arguing that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states. Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing administration lawsuits. Private groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana.
“This case is not just about Arizona. It’s about every state grappling with the costs of illegal immigration,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, said following the court’s announcement Monday.
Fifty-nine Republicans in Congress, including presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, filed a brief with the court backing the Arizona law.
The immigration case, like the challenge to Obama’s health care overhaul, pits Republican-led states against the Democratic administration in an argument about the reach of federal power. The redistricting case has a similarly partisan tinge to it, with Republicans who control the state government in Texas facing off against Democrats and minority groups that tend to vote Democratic.
In the immigration arena, the states say that the federal government isn’t doing enough to address a major problem and that border states are suffering disproportionately.
The issue has been widely discussed by the Republican candidates for president. They have mostly embraced a hard line to avoid accusations that they support any kind of “amnesty” for the some 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the U.S.