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Friday, December 30, 2011

Courts and Federalism

As we explain in our chapter on federalism, courts have played a key role in defining the boundaries between state and federal authority.  Recent news stories illustrate the point.

At The Los Angeles Times, Julie Cart reports:
A federal judge on Thursday temporarily halted California's ability to enforce rules to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation fuels, effectively taking the regulatory teeth out of the state's year-old program.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill issued a preliminary injunction that ruled the California Air Resources Board's low-carbon fuel regulations violated the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California.
The regulations require producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel by 10% over the next decade, as part of California's landmark global-warming law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
The regulation calculates the life cycle of fuels from their extraction — or cultivation, in the case of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol — to their combustion. For example, the state considers how corn is grown, harvested and converted to ethanol intended for California gas tanks, a life-cycle evaluation called "seeds to wheels."
Also at The Los Angeles Times David G. Savage and Carol J. Williams write:
Federal judges have blocked strict new immigration laws adopted by conservative legislatures in half a dozen states, including a ruling last week that said South Carolina may not set up a "street-level dragnet" to stop and arrest illegal immigrants.
But immigrant rights advocates who have cheered those rulings may soon find their luck has run out as those rulings head for the Supreme Court. Legal experts believe the high court's conservative majority will take a sharply different approach.
When Congress last revised the immigration laws, it said states may "cooperate" with the federal government in "the identification, apprehension, detention or removal of aliens not lawfully present in the United States." The states that have passed restrictive laws say that's exactly what they are doing.
The Obama administration disagrees. In its legal arguments against Arizona's law, the administration says the state's policies conflict with the federal government's emphasis on deporting violent criminals, drug dealers and smugglers who are in the country illegally, not the hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who may be living and working here.
But in May, the Supreme Court signaled skepticism about a similar argument.The justices upheld another Arizona law that punished employers who hire illegal workers. In his opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sounded a states' rights theme and set a "high threshold" for striking down a state law on the grounds that it conflicted with the aims of the federal government.

In a newly released study on the state immigration laws, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that in 2011, state legislators from across the country introduced 1,607 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. This is a significant increase from 2010, when 46 states considered more than 1,400 bills and resolutions pertaining to immigrants. As of Dec. 7, 2011, 42 states and Puerto Rico had enacted 197 new laws and 109 new resolutions, for a total of 306.