Two opinions by the Supreme Court – both due in June – could not only affect the outcome of the presidential election in November, but also challenge the jurisdiction of the federal government over states’ rights.
In Arizona v. United States, the issue is whether key provisions in the state of Arizona’s tough immigration law is preempted by federal rules.
In 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed what was considered the country’s broadest anti-immigration bill into law. A district court blocked four controversial provisions, saying they conflicted with established federal law and the 9th Circuit affirmed. Now eight Supreme Court justices will decide what could be a landmark ruling. (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, since she previously worked on the case as the U.S. solicitor general. The case was argued on April 25.
Last May, the court divided along ideological lines and upheld a different Arizona law that penalizes businesses for hiring illegal immigrants by a 5-3 vote.
The Arizona law, passed in 2010, requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect of being in the country illegally. Other parts require immigrants to carry their papers at all times and ban people without proper documents from soliciting for work in public places.
The court will decide whether federal immigration laws take precedence and so preempt Arizona’s law boosting the power of local police to crack down on illegal immigrants. A ruling for Arizona could influence laws in five other states facing legal challenges and prompt more states to adopt tougher immigration measures.
Another case that the nation is awaiting is U.S. Department of Health and Human Services et. al. v. Florida. At issue is whether the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to enact a law requiring virtually all U.S. citizens and legal residents to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The case was argued on March 26-28.
This case is one of three challenging some aspect of the Affordability Care Act (ACA). Four circuit courts have reached different conclusions on the constitutionality of the act, which President Obama signed into law in 2010. Proponents and opponents of ACA, including 26 states, have petitioned the Supreme Court.
The centerpiece of the law is the mandate that most people obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. The challengers, including 26 of the 50 states and a small-business trade group, contend Congress exceeded its authority to regulate commerce with that so-called individual mandate.
Challengers say that if the government can force people to enter the insurance market, it would have latitude to force people to engage in other behavior.
The Obama administration argues that virtually everyone will need medical care and that those who opt not to buy insurance put a disproportionate burden on the system.
Not since 1936 has the Supreme Court struck down a major piece of federal economic legislation as exceeding congressional power.