July 23, 2010
Showdowns tend to draw big crowds, and Thursday’s back-to-back hearings on SB 1070, Arizona’s new immigration law, did not disappoint.
The federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix drew a full contingent of reporters, photographers, lawyers, plaintiffs, protesters, and the just-plain-curious as Judge Susan Bolton presided over two courtroom dramas that will determine the future of this controversial law.
In the first hearing, the ACLU and other civil rights groups – including MALDEF, NILC, APALC and NDLON –asked for an injunction to stop the operative provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect on July 29, as scheduled.
MALDEF attorney Nina Perales started off by refuting the government’s assertion that the plaintiffs did not have a right to sue by describing the particular harm that the new law would have on the diverse coalition of 14 organizations and 10 individuals in the case. For example, she pointed to several of the plaintiffs who are survivors of turmoil in their home countries, religious persecution, or domestic violence, who would be subject to detention and arrest under Arizona’s law, but not by federal authorities.
Next, at Judge Bolton’s urging, Omar Jadwat from the ACLU described the constitutional problems with the law provision-by-provision. In addition to arguing that Arizona did not have the authority to unilaterally create its own set of immigration laws, Jadwat pointed out that the law discriminates against certain out-of-state residents and violates freedom of speech.
In the afternoon hearing, Judge Bolton heard an argument from the United States government as to why it believed SB 1070 should be enjoined. The federal government’s motion focused on the impediment that Arizona’s enforcement scheme would be to the federal government’s ability to speak with one voice on immigration and international relations.
As the legal teams battled inside, anti-SB 1070 protesters took over the street in front of the courthouse. The protest started humbly enough, with 20 or so people quietly singing hymns or kneeling in prayer on the sidewalk. By the time the first hearing started at 10 a.m., the group had swelled to more than 100, and steady drumbeats kept time with the chants of “Hey, Ho, SB 1070 Must Go.”
By the time the morning hearing ended at about 12:30 p.m., the protest crowd had grown to more than 300 people and the chants and drumbeats almost drowned out the post-hearing press conference by the plaintiffs and their attorneys. The protesters didn’t seem to mind the sweltering midday heat and their energy seemed to build as the day wore on.
The showdown was over by about 3 p.m. and the crowds melted away. Now, it’s up to Judge Bolton to decide what will become of this dangerous and unconstitutional law.
- Annie Lai, ACLU of Arizona Staff Attorney, and Jon O'Neill