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DOJ vs. Arizona: The battle over preemption; Updated with complaint link

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 6, 2010 10:49 AM

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Here it comes. After months of advance hype and threats, Team Obama is reportedly set to file suit against the state of Arizona over its immigration enforcement law. The Washington Post says the filing could come today.

The word of the day: “Preemption.”

The lawsuit, which three sources said could be filed as early as Tuesday, will invoke for its main argument the legal doctrine of “preemption,” which is based on the Constitution’s supremacy clause and says that federal law trumps state statutes. Justice Department officials believe that enforcing immigration laws is a federal responsibility, the sources said…The preemption doctrine has been established in Supreme Court decisions, and some legal experts have said such a federal argument likely would persuade a judge to declare the law unconstitutional.

But lawyers who helped draft the Arizona legislation have expressed doubt that a preemption argument would prevail.

Rosemary Jenks at Numbers USA has some helpful legal context:

The Supreme Court has stated clearly and often that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress “plenary power” over immigration policy, meaning that Congress has virtually unlimited authority to regulate immigration into the United States. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution says that federal law supersedes conflicting state law. In immigration matters, the courts have consistently held that this means that states may enact immigration-related laws that go as far as, but no further than, duly enacted federal laws, except in areas where Congress has specifically preempted state action. (The primary example of Congress preempting state action is 8 U.S.C. 1324b(h)(2), which prohibits states and localities from “imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens,” which is why states and localities must tie E-Verify mandates to the issuance of business licenses.) Congress has not preempted state or local action regarding any of the federal laws that the new Arizona law seeks to enforce, so long as the state law goes no further than existing federal law. The Arizona law was drafted meticulously to ensure that it complies fully with the U.S. Constitution and with federal immigration laws.

Hans Bader noted last year that left-wing attorneys are selective supporters of preemption doctrine:

Other Obama appointees, like attorney general Eric Holder, are also big supporters of gun control. (Holder has argued that the Second Amendment does not protect any individual right).

Many (but not all) state constitutions protect the right to possess a firearm. But liberal administrations often seek to use federal workplace laws to try to override rights protected by state constitutions or laws. For example, the Clinton Administration argued that a federal law called Title VII overrode California’s broad equal-protection guarantees, which forbade racial quotas and preferences in government contracting, college admissions, and public employment. This “preemption” argument was rejected by a federal appeals court in Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson (1997). (Ironically, liberal lawyers often oppose preemption when it expands individual freedom, like federal curbs on baseless state-court lawsuits. The Obama Administration opposes preemption when it would prevent trial lawyers from bringing lawsuits).

SB1070 author Kris Kobach responded to the preemption issue back in April:

NLJ: How did you ensure that S.B. 1070 conforms with federal pre-emption doctrine, which is likely to be the major basis for challenging the law?

KK: The provision of the law that many have focused on is the one makes it a misdemeanor for an alien to fail to carry registration documents on his person. They fail to mention that an individual is only guilty if he is in violation of 8 USC sec 1304(a) or 8 USC 1306(e). Those provisions have been around since 1940, making it a crime to fail to register or carry certain documents. The state statue literally refers to those federal statutes. A person can only be guilty under the state statute if he is guilty under the federal statute.

The principle that protects the Arizona law is the legal principle of concurrent enforcement. This has been recognized by several courts, including the 9th Circuit. It holds that a law is not conflict-preempted if the state law prohibits the same behavior that is already prohibited by federal law. Similarly, if a state officer acts in a way to assist the federal government in that action, he concurrently enforces what is already prohibited under federal law.

That principle guides any interpretation of S.B. 1070.

The controlling Supreme Court precedent is 1976′s De Canas v. Bica. In that case, the Supreme Court recognized states may enact legislation to discourage illegal immigration within their jurisdictions. The mere fact that a state law concerns illegal immigration or affects immigration in some way does not render it pre-empted.

The Arizona law is scheduled to take effect July 29 — and the open-borders mob is gearing up. Remember Saul Arellano? The now-10-year-old son of illegal alien deportation fugitive Elvira Arellano has been hauled back from Mexico to join pro-illegal alien activists on another amnesty march to the Washington.

Good thing such kiddie human shield antics don’t cut it in a rational court of law.

***

Related: Arizona Democrats running as fast as they can away from Obama.

Update: Here you go.

Update: You can find the complaint here via William Jacobson.

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