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Post date: June 22 2012

New York Attorney General’s Office Wins National Award For Legal Excellence

Non-Partisan National Association of Attorneys General Gives A.G Schneiderman's Office Award For Best Legal Brief Filed By A State In The Supreme Court

Brief Argued Arizona Immigration Measure Undermines Federal Law Enforcement Priorities And Threatens Civil Rights


WASHINGTON– In recognition of legal excellence in advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) today announced that it has honored the New York Attorney General’s Office with its “Best Brief Award” for the current Supreme Court term. The non-partisan organization presented this award for the Attorney General’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case of State of Arizona v. United States of America. The brief argued that a controversial Arizona measure targeting undocumented immigrants is unconstitutional because it is inconsistent with federal law, threatens civil rights, and undermines federal law enforcement priorities.

The brief also argued that states have broad authority to enact and enforce a wide variety of laws affecting immigrants, but only the federal government can establish and oversee an enforcement policy for the removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States. The brief, which was prepared with the State of California, was filed on behalf of 11 states. The winning brief was chosen by a panel of experienced private-sector Supreme Court litigators.

“One of my top priorities is making the Office of Attorney General the best public law firm in the nation, and this honor recognizes the extraordinary work of our attorneys who are working hard every day to make that vision a reality,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “This well-deserved award for an outstanding brief confirms the talent of our top-notch appellate lawyers - they have made our state proud.”

The measure, known as SB 1070, requires Arizona law enforcement officials to engage in their own enforcement activities in aid of removal – including arrest and detention of individuals who appear to be undocumented immigrants – without any federal oversight, and without regard to federal enforcement priorities. The Arizona law also criminalizes any work (or attempts to find work) by undocumented immigrants, and any failure by such immigrants to comply with federal registration requirements. The United States sued to prevent enforcement of the Arizona law, on the ground that it conflicts with federal law and policy, and two lower federal courts agreed. Arizona is now attempting to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision.

The Arizona law “improperly displaces and supplants federal authority over removal of undocumented immigrants, a subject that the Constitution leaves to Congress, and that Congress delegated to the discretion and exclusive oversight of federal executive officials. S.B. 1070 thus obstructs and impedes federal efforts to establish national priorities for the removal of undocumented immigrants,” the states argued in the brief. “Overzealous and indiscriminate attempts to identify and remove undocumented immigrants also pose many risks for civil-rights violations—a risk that spills over to legal residents. Enforcement measures targeted at ‘removable’ immigrants—such as documentation checks or other investigatory measures—therefore threaten to sweep in many legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who simply share the same race, ethnicity, or cultural markers as undocumented immigrants common to a particular area.”

The other states joining the brief, in addition to New York and California, are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The brief argued that Congress placed the federal executive branch in charge of implementing and overseeing a nationwide immigration policy with specific enforcement priorities. As part of that policy, the executive branch oversees state cooperative efforts to identify, apprehend, and detain undocumented immigrants for purposes of removal. But under federal law the states may not pursue their own enforcement priorities without federal oversight. The brief identifies several good reasons for that principle.

First, enforcement activities to remove people from the U.S. can have broad effects on entire communities, which may consist of documented and undocumented immigrants as well as U.S. citizens. These effects can disrupt families, communities, and other economic and social relationships. Second, enforcement measures targeted at undocumented immigrants threaten to sweep in many documented immigrants and citizens as well -- and overzealous enforcement efforts create the risk of civil rights violations that inflict grave harms on those who simply share the same race, ethnicity, or appearance as the undocumented immigrants being targeted.

The brief also argued that, if states could enforce their own priorities and policies in this area, their actions would have substantial effects on other states. Arizona's unilateral removal policy would place serious demands on federal authorities, who would have to respond to Arizona officers’ information requests and determine what to do with individuals detained by Arizona. This would divert federal resources from the priority areas set by Congress, including protecting the public from dangerous felons and terrorists, not only in Arizona but elsewhere. And Arizona's independent enforcement policies would inevitably impact the choices made by immigrants and legal residents about where to live and visit, resulting in a substantial social and economic impacts on other states.

NAAG is a non-partisan organization founded in 1907 to foster interstate cooperation on legal and law enforcement issues, conduct policy research and analysis of issues, and facilitate communication between the states' chief legal officers and all levels of government. NAAG's "best brief" award is based on the decision of a panel consisting of appellate experts from major private law firms throughout the United States.

The award will be presented in Washington, D.C. on July 11 to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, who prepared the brief together with Deputy Solicitor General Cecelia Chang, Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke, and Special Counsel to the Solicitor General Steven Wu, with assistance from Assistant Solicitor General Matthew W. Grieco and Assistant Attorney General Clare Norins. A decision in the case is expected by the end of this month.

A copy of the Attorney General’s award-winning brief is available here.

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