The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review whether Arizona can enact a tough anti-immigration law, setting up a court battle between the state and the Obama administration in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.
Arizona had petitioned the Supreme Court to take its case with the Department of Justice over its law known as SB1070, which aims to make life in the state difficult for illegal immigrants so they will relocate.
The justices will review lower court rulings that blocked several of the more onerous provisions of SB1070.
Like all decisions to put a case on the Supreme Court docket, no explanation was given.
The lawsuit against Arizona is similar to Justice Department actions against other states that enacted their own laws targeting illegal immigration, including South Carolina, Utah and Alabama.
Those lawsuits have yet to receive a ruling from an appellate court; Arizona's law was the only one to be reviewed by an appeals court, the Ninth Circuit based in San Francisco.
In April, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton targeting four provisions of SB1070.
These provisions require law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone detained or arrested; authorize warrantless arrests of any undocumented resident who had committed a public offense; require immigrants to carry documents; and making it a state crime for illegal immigrants to look or accept work.
The Justice Department has said these are preempted by federal immigration law.
The Obama administration's top appellate lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, had argued in a court brief that bringing the Arizona case to the Supreme Court for review would be premature.
There is no reason to think that reviewing this preliminary injunction would resolve those cases--much less resolve any conflict in the courts of appeals on the relevant issues, because none exists, not even at the petition's broad level of generality, Verrilli wrote in November.
That court upheld a preliminary injunction put in place by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton.
Arizona, in response to Verrilli, said the high court should review the injunction because of the proliferation of highly unusual efforts by the Obama administration to stop states from enacting immigration-related laws underscores the need for this court's review.
Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the decision to accept the petition, likely because of her previous job as solicitor general.
The Supreme Court's decision Monday added another politically charged case to the docket, alongside the challenges to the health care reform law.