Almost immediately after Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070 into law, lawsuits were filed in federal court in Arizona challenging the law. The lawsuits all seek the same result—a halt to the law’s enforcement—although each suit argues different grounds. Some suits cite civil liberty violations, racial profiling and unlawful regulation of federal immigration law, while another suit states that the police training videos exacerbate conflicts between federal and state law. As July 29, 2010, the date S.B. 1070 is set to go into effect, draws near, litigants and supporters on both sides of the lawsuits are seeking swift resolutions. Ultimately though, the timing of any resolution will depend on the court.

Six lawsuits have been brought by non-profit organizations and individuals and a seventh lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Five of the six lawsuits filed by individuals and organizations ask the court to declare S.B. 1070 unconstitutional and to block Arizona from enforcing the law. The sixth lawsuit and the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice ask for the same relief, but only seek to block the first six sections of the law. This would leave intact provisions about employment and the impounding of vehicles.

In Escobar v. Brewer and Salgado v. Brewer, Arizona police officers claim that they cannot enforce S.B. 1070 absent a judicial declaration that it is lawful and argue that they could be sued for violating the civil liberties of people against whom they would be required to enforce the law. In a third lawsuit, Frisancho v. Brewer, a Hispanic resident of D.C. who plans to visit Arizona claims that police enforcing S.B. 1070 may stop him based solely on his ethnicity.

A fourth and fifth lawsuit, Friendly House v. Whiting and National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders v. State of Arizona, are class action lawsuits brought by non-profit organizations and individuals. Both lawsuits claim that S.B. 1070 unlawfully regulates immigration, will result in widespread racial profiling, and will unconstitutionally deprive people of freedom of speech. In a sixth lawsuit and the most recent class action, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Arizona, non-profit organizations and individuals claim, among other challenges to the law, that the police training materials released to train Arizona law enforcement on how to enforce S.B. 1070 worsen conflicts between the United States Constitution and federal laws on the one hand, and Arizona law on the other hand,

A seventh lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice claims that S.B. 1070 conflicts with comprehensive federal immigration policy, ignores humanitarian concerns, and will interfere with foreign policy and national security interests.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton will preside over six of the seven lawsuits and has scheduled hearings in three of the cases. On July 15, Judge Bolton heard oral arguments in Salgado, and on July 22, Judge Bolton will hear oral arguments in Friendly House and in the case brought by the United States.

In response to any of the hearings that are scheduled, Judge Bolton could block Arizona from enforcing S.B.1070 while the lawsuits are pending. For this to occur, the plaintiffs have to convince the judge that if the law was to go into effect, plaintiffs would suffer “irreparable harm” and that the plaintiffs are likely to win on the merits of their case. On the other hand, the judge could also dismiss the cases entirely. If that happened, the plaintiffs could appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to stop S.B. 1070 from going into effect. The Ninth Circuit could override Judge Bolton’s decision and halt enforcement of S.B. 1070, or it could uphold Judge Bolton’s ruling. There is no guarantee that Judge Bolton will issue a ruling before the July 29 effective date but because she is hearing the cases next week, it is possible she will rule on the motions for preliminary injunction.

If the lawsuits are not dismissed at these hearings or other hearings, Judge Bolton will eventually make a final decision about whether to strike down the law. If the court upholds the law, plaintiffs could appeal the court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit and if unsuccessful at the Ninth Circuit, they could seek Supreme Court review. It often takes years for a case to wind its way through the appeals process. Unless the court acts to block enforcement of the law during the appeal, it could take many months before any court issues a final decision.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen.