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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 11:23am

Supreme Court Enters Immigration Debate

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigration. The high court’s ruling will affect the fate of a similar Georgia law.

While the Georgia and Arizona laws differ somewhat, experts say both cases pivot on one main point: What rights do states have to enforce immigration control, which has long been a federal power?

Georgia appealed a federal injunction of its law, but judges with Atlanta’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said they won’t rule until after the Supreme Court decision.

Attorney Charles Kuck represents some of the plaintiffs challenging Georgia’s law. He says the appeals court will likely follow the high court ruling.

“What they will do is, they will take the rationale of the Supreme Court decision in Arizona – either upholding or striking down the statute – and apply it to the Georgia law," he said in a telephone interview. "That’s because the law and the phases of the law are essentially the same. If the Supreme Court strikes down the Arizona law, the 11th Circuit will take that and likely strike down the Georgia law.”

While the court’s ruling will certainly affect Georgia’s case, it remains to be seen how. So says Carissa Byrne Hessick, a professor of law at Arizona State University.

“It’s not clear that the way the Supreme Court will end up deciding the Arizona case will necessarily dictate how the Court of Appeals has to decide the Georgia case,” she said.

She says that’s because the court could rule narrowly on the Arizona law or more broadly on general principles. In addition, only eight justices will hear the case. That's because Justice Elena Kagan had to recuse herself. Herrick says that means the court could be split, 4-4, which would mean the Court of Appeals wouldn't have a clear blueprint on how to rule.

One thing that won't change after the high court rules is the E-Verify portion of the law, which requires many businesses to check employees' immigration status. That part of the law wasn't challenged.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Arizona law in June. Kuck said the Court of Appeals may not decide the Georgia case until the end of the summer or later.

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