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The Judge Behind the Decision Striking Down Parts of Arizona’s Anti-Immigration Law

federal district court judge susan bolton author of decision striking down arizona anti immigration law

Judge Susan Bolton

Susan R. Bolton is a federal district court judge in the District of Arizona, which is part of the 9th circuit. She gained national attention with her July 28, 2010 ruling that struck down the parts of an Arizona law that criminalized the status of undocumented immigrants and gave state or local police the power to arrest undocumented immigrants. (Read Bolton’s full decision here.)

The ruling was issued one day before the law was to take effect. Bolton is handling all lawsuits filed against the state’s immigration law, known as SB1070. As of late July, 2010, there were seven such lawsuits.

“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens,” Bolton wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

Following the recommendation of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, Bolton was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton on July 21, 2000, to a seat vacated by Robert C. Broomfield. She’d been Maricopa County Superior Court judge since 1989, where she was a registered Independent. The U.S. Senate confirmed Bolton on Oct. 3, 2000, by unanimous consent.

Bolton was born in 1951 in Philadelphia.

Here are other key rulings, as listed by the Arizona Republic:

January 2010: Rules that Arizona cannot legally bar residents of other states from helping a political party get on the ballot here, rejecting arguments by Secretary of State Ken Bennett that allowing only Arizona residents to circulate these political petitions is necessary to prevent fraud. The decision was considered a victory for the Green Party.

• February 2008: Upheld a designation of critical habitat in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico for the Mexican spotted owl despite an effort by the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association to overturn it.

• February 2002: Sentenced a smuggler to 16 years in prison for leading 14 illegal immigrants to their deaths in the desert between Yuma and Ajo.

• 2002: Ruled that Border Patrol officials had legal immunity and couldn’t be sued for their part in a 1997 immigrant roundup that led to 430 arrests and drew complaints that Hispanics who were U.S. citizens were harassed because of their appearance.

• 2000: Struck from the ballot a land-preservation proposal advanced by the Arizona Legislature that was a bid to counter a similar proposal by environmentalists that remained on the ballot. Bolton said the Legislature’s proposal violated a state constitutional requirement that ballot measures cannot cover more than one subject. Critics called Bolton an activist judge, and accused her of working with the environmentalists to torpedo the Legislature’s option.

The Arizona Republic reported on July 21, 2010:

The consensus among members of the legal community interviewed for this story is that she’s the right person to have making such an important decision.

“She’s very smart, very well prepared, very quick to cut to the core of things,” said Robert Bartels, an Arizona State University law professor. “She’s a terrific administrator. She just really gets things done quickly, but still well.”

Lawyers are happy when they draw Bolton as the judge for their cases because they know they’ll get a fair shake, said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Phoenix office, who brings about five cases a year before Bolton.

“You never worry that there is going to be any bias. You won’t hear that about every judge,” O’Neill said.

Her predecessor, Robert Broomfield, was nominated to the seat by Ronald Reagan in May 1985. then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist appointed Broomfield to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in May 2002.

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