A federal district judge halted Alabama's tough new immigration law Monday just days before it was to take effect, making it the latest state to see a crackdown law blocked by a court.
Chief District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn said she didn't have enough time to consider the law in full before the Sept. 1 date it goes into effect, so she halted its enforcement until she has time to fully consider the case and make a broader ruling later next month.
"In entering this order the court specifically notes that it is in no way addressing the merits of the motions," Judge Blackburn wrote in her brief order, promising a ruling by Sept. 28.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he is awaiting the judge's broader decision on the full merits of the case.
"We have long needed a tough law against illegal immigration in this state, and we now have one," he said. "I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges."
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who argued the case for the court, was out of town Monday for the funeral of a police officer and his office said he would not be putting out a statement.
The judge's ruling means the Obama administration's Justice Department has been successful both times it has sued to block state laws giving police more powers over immigration enforcement, first in Arizona and now in Alabama. Three additional states — Utah, Indiana and Georgia — also have seen their laws blocked, though the federal government did not intervene in those.
But the adverse rulings have done little to cool states' zeal to fill what they say is a void left by lax federal enforcement.
Most of the new crackdown laws would give police more authority to stop and check legal status of those they suspect of being in the country illegally. Federal judges have ruled the laws infringe on the federal government's powers under the Constitution to control immigration.
Alabama's law went further than other states. One provision would require schools to determine the legal status of students — though state officials said it wouldn't deny them the chance to attend school, which is protected under a previous Supreme Court case.
The Alabama law was challenged by a group of immigrant rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union; a coalition of religious denominations; and the Justice Department.
Last year, the Obama administration repeatedly clashed with Arizona, which pioneered state immigration enforcement laws. Officials from the president on down blasted Arizona's law, arguing it would lead to racial profiling — though some, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., acknowledged they hadn't read the law before they first attacked it.
When it finally filed its suit the Justice Department confined its case to arguing the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over immigration law, and that any effort by states could spoil carefully balanced federal efforts.
First a district court and later a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Obama administration.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this month asked the Supreme Court to take the case.
"For too long the federal government has turned a blind eye as this problem has manifested itself in the form of drop houses in our neighborhoods and crime in our communities," Mrs. Brewer said. "If the federal government won't enforce its immigration laws, we will."
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