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Tonight on the NewsHour: The Legal Battle Over Arizona’s Immigration Law

Crowds gathered Thursday outside a federal courthouse in Phoenix as lawyers for the Department of Justice ask U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to stop Arizona’s controversial new immigration law from going into effect on July 29. The law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally, and requires law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter while enforcing other laws, where “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are illegal aliens.

The judge also hears arguments in challenges brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups. In all, seven federal suits have been filed since Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB-1070 into law April 23, on the grounds the law is unconstitutional and could result in civil rights violations. In turn, the governor, as well as several local sheriffs, have filed motions to dismiss the cases.

On Thursday’s NewsHour broadcast, Ray Suarez speaks with legal scholars on opposite sides of this debate. Kris Kobach is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and co-authored the Arizona law. Steven Gonzales is a professor at the Phoenix School of Law, and a critic of SB-1070.

Here’s a preview of what they’ll have to say:

THE RUNDOWN: Kris Kobach, you are a consulting attorney for Governor Brewer. Why is her argument stronger than the federal government’s?

KRIS KOBACH: I was one of the principal drafters of the law, along with State Sen. Russell Pearce. Clearly, Governor Brewer has the stronger argument, because the theories the Justice Department are relying on are not theories supported by precedents or appeals. There’s tons of case law on the authority of state law and state police to make immigration arrests, and they all support what Arizona is doing. The precedent is on Arizona’s side. The civil rights claim is a non-starter that has no prayer in court. Arizona law forbids racial profiling not once, but four times. Read it.

I can certainly predict that no matter what happens in federal district court, this will be appealed and will go to the next circuit. I’m very confident that Arizona will ultimately win.

THE RUNDOWN: Steven Gonzales, you think the case against Arizona is clear. Why is the law unconstitutional, in your opinion?

STEVEN GONZALES: There are about half a dozen lawsuits against the state of Arizona in all. The first suits tended to focus more on the civil rights issue that it’s going to result on racial profiling, and the strongest argument there is that it compels an officer to make an arrest if has reasonable suspicion and allows the officer to detain the person until they prove they are legally here. The other argument that is being raised by the Justice Department, is the federal versus state rights argument.

My professional opinion is that the law is unconstitutional on several counts, primarily because of issue of federal versus state power, but also because of the civil rights issues. The press has mostly dealt with the civil rights part, but the bigger constitutional issue is the federal government versus the state government. The law usurps federal power, and that’s exceedingly dangerous if you think of it down the road, if you think of what it does to the constitutional structure.

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