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Arizona immigration law gets high court scrutiny

By David G. Savage Published: April 25, 2012

— The Supreme Court justices, hearing arguments Wednesday over Arizona's tough immigration law, suggested they were inclined to uphold parts of the state's law, but may block others.

The Obama administration lawyer who wanted the entire law struck down ran into skeptical questions from most of the justices who said they saw no problem with requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people who are stopped.

But the justices also said they were troubled by parts of the Arizona law that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work or not carry documents.

Before U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. delivered his opening comments, the chief justice interrupted to say that “no part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling.”

Verrilli agreed and said Arizona's law should be struck down because it conflicts with the federal government's “exclusive” power of immigration.

But he ran into a barrage of skeptical questions, including from some of the court's liberals. Justice Stephen Breyer said he did not see why Arizona police would violate federal immigration law if they simply notified federal agents they had a possible illegal immigrant in custody. He said he would be concerned only if the state said it could arrest and jail illegal immigrants on its own.

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