The Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors on Friday to take a first look at a challenge to Arizona's strict immigration law and decide whether or not to take up the case.
The law, passed in April 2010, is one of several recent attempts by various states to play a more aggressive role in immigration-related matters.
The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law as soon as it passed, arguing that it interferes with existing federal law.
"Federal law and policy do not adopt such a one-size-fits all approach to enforcement," argued Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli in court briefs. "The officials who enforce the nation's immigration laws require significant discretion in order to balance numerous goals and purposes … including law enforcement priorities, foreign-relations considerations and humanitarian concerns."
Siding with the administration, the lower courts blocked several key provisions of the law from going into effect until the courts have a chance to make a final judgment.
The action outraged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who released a statement saying the law "represents another tool for our state to use as we work to address a crisis we did not create and the federal government has actively refused to fix. The law protects all of us, every Arizona citizen and everyone here in our state lawfully."
Arizona argues that the state had to move aggressively to pass the controversial provisions because the federal government was not doing its duty to control immigration.
"Arizona bears the brunt of the problems caused by illegal immigration," wrote Paul Clement, a lawyer for the state, in court briefs. "Arizona has repeatedly asked the federal government for more vigorous enforcement of the federal immigration laws, but to no avail."
While Arizona said it is trying to work cooperatively with the federal government to address the problem, critics said the states are going too far.
"There are less than a handful of very narrow instances where Congress has allowed state or local actors to participate in the enforcement of immigration law under federal direction and supervision," said Karen Tumlin, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. "These state laws go far beyond that."
One of the blocked provisions provides that a law enforcement officer can ask the person he has stopped, detained or arrested for his papers if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. Another section makes it a state crime for someone to work or seek work without proper authorization.
Although deeply concerned about the law, the Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to refrain from taking up the case, at this juncture. Verrilli argued that, so far, only one appellate court has dealt with the law and the Supreme Court should wait until more cases from other states have had a chance to make their way through the lower courts.
Arizona is asking the Court to step in now and reverse the lower court decision that blocked the key provisions from going into effect.
Similar legislation is pending in Utah, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia and Alabama.
Alabama's law arguably goes farther than any of the other laws. A lower court blocked one provision of the law that requires elementary school children, upon enrollment, to present documentation showing their nationality and immigration status and for the schools to report that information to the state.
"The problem with the proliferation of state immigration laws is that we will have a patchwork of different laws that apply in different ways," said Cecillia Wang, the director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Ultimately, the greatest harm is going to be to everyone's rights under the Constitution, because the laws are set up to take aim at undocumented immigrants but catch everyone in the dragnet of a 'show me your papers' police regime."
The Supreme Court might announce as early as Monday whether it will take up the case.