The exchange came a day before the US Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in a case testing whether SB 1070 should be allowed to take full effect in Arizona or whether the state measure is preempted by federal immigration statutes and the enforcement priorities of the Obama administration.
The showdown at the Supreme Court marks the second time in a month that the high court will hear a major case asking the justices to weigh the proper balance of power between the federal government and state governments. Last month, the justices heard a case brought by 26 states challenging the authority of the federal government under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to enact President Obama’s health-care reform law.
The Arizona case on Wednesday involves a different legal doctrine known as federal preemption. It is the recognition that federal law is the supreme law of the land and trumps any conflicting state law.
The Obama administration sued Arizona to block implementation of SB 1070, arguing that the law impermissibly intruded into the federal government’s exclusive authority to enforce immigration laws.
Lawyers for the state counter that SB 1070 is faithful to tough immigration standards written into federal law by Congress. They say it is the Obama administration that is selectively enforcing federal laws by focusing on finding and deporting convicted criminals while allowing other illegal immigrants to remain in the US.
The Judiciary subcommittee hearing was not aimed at examining issues of constitutional law. Instead, it became a policy debate, touching on many of the hot-button aspects of Arizona’s ongoing immigration controversy.
Five other states have enacted immigration enforcement laws similar to Arizona's.
Republican members of the subcommittee did not attend the hearing.