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Court smacks down Joe Arpaio: Turning point for 'America's toughest sheriff?' (+video)

A federal court found that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio systematically violated the constitutional rights of immigrants through 'saturation' sweeps targeting Hispanics.

Court rules on racism and Joe Arpaio
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A federal court on Friday found that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio systematically violated the constitutional rights of immigrants through "saturation" sweeps that ended up targeting people based on their appearance or perceived ancestry.

The combative, colorful and controversial Mr. Arpaio has over the past decade come to define American anger over illegal immigration as he's aggressively pursued immigration lawbreakers in Arizona's most populous county, corralling a staggering 25 percent of all US immigration arrests per year.

But while Arpaio remains popular among many conservatives for stunts like investigating President Obama's birth certificate and issuing pink underwear to inmates, the court ruling can be seen as part of a broader pushback against aggressive immigration enforcement and growing momentum for a bipartisan solution to America's undocumented immigrant problem with implications both for illegal immigrants as well as Arpaio's own legacy.

The decision, which in essence agreed with an earlier lower court ruling, should be seen as "a warning to any agency trying to enforce 'show me your papers' [state laws] – there is no exception in the Constitution for immigration enforcement," said Cecilia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, in a statement.

In the ruling, US District Court Judge Murray Snow told Arpaio and his deputies to stop using race and ancestry as reasons to stop or detain drivers in a tactic widely known as "saturation patrols."

"The great weight of the evidence is that all types of saturation patrols at issue in this case incorporated race as a consideration into their operations," Judge Snow said in a written ruling.

Tim Casey, the county's lawyer, maintained that race has never been the prevailing factor in making decisions about whom to stop.

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