The Supreme Court's decision is likely to be convoluted. The justices are assessing four provisions of the state law that have been halted by a lower court. The provisions in question are as follows: 1) requiring police officers to check the immigration status of the people they stop if they suspect the person is in the country illegally; 2) allowing warrantless arrests if the officers reasonably believe the person is deportable; 3) requiring people who are stopped to carry ID proving legal status; and 4) making it a crime for undocumented workers to solicit employment.
(PICTURES: Scenes From Outside the Supreme Court)
Legal analysts disagree about which are the most problematic parts of the law, but the ID requirement certainly ranks at the top of the list from a practical point of view. What is to be done with legal foreign minors? What counts as a valid ID?
It is also unclear how justices will view the provision criminalizing work solicitation. It is a new idea not included in the 1986 federal law that made it illegal for employers to hire undocumented workers.
Those questions are different from the police officers' new duties under the law, which could be viewed as simple changes to make their jobs easier. Police officers in Arizona talk about waiting hours for immigration authorities to show up when they have stopped people for other reasons and they believe they are undocumented. Sometimes they have to let those people go. If Arizona law were upheld, it would allow the police officers to bring them in to their facilities.
(RELATED: How a Win on Immigration Could Cost the GOP)
There is nothing in the United States's brief against the law that mentions racial profiling, although Democrats and civil rights advocates say the "show me your papers" provision leads to that. The authors of the law vigorously protest that characterization. Kirk Adams, a Republican running for Congress who formerly was Arizona's House speaker, said state legislators went to extreme lengths to protect citizens from racial profiling. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who held a hearing on the Arizona law on Tuesday, didn't buy it. "Why don't you just say everyone stopped by police has to be checked? Why do you require police to form opinions?" he asked.
By accepting the immigration case, the justices have invited a summer full of dialogue. Civil rights groups have racial profiling cases teed up in the lower courts. Democrats and immigration-reform advocates are riling up the Hispanic voting bloc. Legislators are ready to pounce with legislation. The justices, meanwhile, will be focused solely on what states are allowed to do to enforce immigration.