Judge Advances Civil Rights Groups’ SB 1070 Lawsuit

They clear an important legal hurdle in one of five suits challenging the law.

By Julianne Hing Oct 11, 2010

On Friday a federal judge issued a ruling allowing a lawsuit against SB 1070 brought by a coalition of civil rights groups to move forward. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton partially struck down motions from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to have the case dismissed. (Scroll down for a breakdown of the lawsuits against SB 1070.)

Bolton dismissed complaints from plaintiffs that said that SB 1070 would restrict immigrants’ speech and travel. The groups had argued that SB 1070 would make people afraid to speak languages besides English, and that is why it had to be struck down. Bolton rejected that complaint because she said the civil rights coalition was not the correct party to be bringing such claims. Nevertheless, civil rights groups are celebrating the broader ruling.

"Today’s order is an important first step in challenging this unconstitutional law," the coalition said in a joint statement Friday. "The civil rights coalition will continue its legal fight until all of SB 1070 is taken off the books."

The ACLU, National Immigration Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and NAACP filed their case against Arizona in May, charging that the state violated the Constitution by passing its own immigration law. The coalition of civil rights groups have argued that only the federal government has the right to create and enforce immigration policy.

SB 1070 would allow law enforcement to pull over and question anyone suspected of being in the state without papers. If the state prevails, people will be detained until their immigration status is determined and, if it turns out they don’t have the correct paperwork, they’ll face a new class of statutes that criminalize their undocumented status.

In July, Judge Bolton issued a partial injunction against SB 1070 in response to the Department of Justice’s suit, which charges that the law unconstitutionally preempts federal authority. Bolton blocked the most serious provisions. But other parts of SB 1070 are currently in effect. Portions of the law target day laborers, institute stricter employer sanctions and make it a crime to give a ride to someone who is undocumented.

Since then, Bolton has thrown out two other lawsuits against SB 1070. One was filed by a researcher in Washington, D.C., who said he feared racial profiling if he traveled to Arizona (Frisancho v. Brewer below). The second dismissed lawsuit was brought by a Tuscon police officer (Escobar v Brewer below). There are currently five pending legal challenges against the law.