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Posted: April 26, 2012 10:01 p.m.

Perugino: Supreme Court deciding on president’s use of power

With justices questioning his aggressive assertion of federal power on both health care and immigration laws, President Obama faces the prospect of two major setbacks at the U.S. Supreme Court in the middle of his re-election campaign.

We have arrived at a place where our rights and freedoms through the U.S. Constitution face an endless onslaught by this administration in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. As you will see later in this article, the sovereignty of the individual states, as provided for in the U.S. Constitution, is in jeopardy in these Court decisions.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the president's top courtroom lawyer, met resistance across ideological lines yesterday as he called on the court to strike down Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is "not selling very well."

Coupled with last month's argument over Obama's health-care overhaul, the session raised the possibility of a one-two punch hitting the president in June, when the court might invalidate his signature domestic achievement and uphold the core of the Arizona law his administration went to court to stop.

June may be the "cruelest month" for Obama, said Barbara Perry, a presidential and Supreme Court scholar at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. "His hope has to be that if both of these huge cases go against him, Americans will be at the beach and won't be paying attention, but I don't think he will be that lucky."

Both cases pit the administration against Republican-controlled states over the federal-state balance of power, which will be an issue in the election. Mitt Romney, who along with Obama is vying for Hispanic votes, has taken a tough stance on illegal immigration in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, even as a report this week said the wave of undocumented aliens from Mexico has ended and many have returned to their native country.

The court's immigration decision may also have a ripple effect on laws enacted during the past two years in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Utah and Indiana.

The justices yesterday voiced skepticism about parts of the Arizona law, including penalties on illegal immigrants who seek jobs and a provision that would make it a state criminal offense for a foreigner to be in Arizona without correct documentation.

"They were very concerned about picking and choosing among the sections of the statute," said Garrett Epps, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who attended the argument.

Still, the justices made clear they see states as having a role to play in addressing the presence of what the government has estimated are 11.5 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S.

Clearly, between the upcoming rulings by the Supreme Court and the critical elections, this year will be a crucial point in the history of our country. The responsibility weighs heavily on our citizens to stay informed on the facts, apply some critical thinking and participate in the electoral process for the good of our country.

William Perugino is active in local and regional politics and can be reached at william.perugino@jacobs.com.

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