ATLANTA - A federal appeals court on Thursday denied requests by Georgia and Alabama to delay action on legal challenges to their tough new laws targeting illegal immigration pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar challenge to Arizona's immigration law.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued orders denying motions filed last week by the attorneys general of the two states.
"We look forward to the oral argument and the future decision by the Court," said Lauren Kane, spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange had no immediate comment on the court order Thursday, his office said.
Both Olens and Strange had said last week that the Supreme Court's ruling in Arizona would be relevant to the consideration of the appeals in their cases.
The Supreme Court said Dec. 12 that it would review a federal appeals court ruling that blocked parts of the Arizona law. One part requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect he or she is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration challenged the Arizona law, arguing that regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states. The Department of Justice also challenged similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah. Civil liberties and immigrant rights groups also sued over measures in those states, as well as in Georgia and Indiana.
Karen Tumlin, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, which is arguing the cases in both Alabama and Georgia, said she was pleased.
"We're happy that those cases will move forward," she said, adding that she doesn't believe the outcome of the Arizona case will resolve all of the questions in the Georgia and Alabama cases.
The groups challenging the laws had not opposed Georgia's request for delayed action, because they were satisfied with the lower court's ruling temporarily blocking parts of the law.
A federal judge in June temporarily blocked parts of Georgia's law pending the outcome of a legal challenge filed by immigrant rights and civil liberties groups. One blocked section would authorize police to check the immigration status of suspects who don't have proper identification. The other would create a state penalty for people who knowingly and willingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing another crime.
The groups had filed a motion opposing Alabama's request for a stay because parts of the law they had challenged already have taken effect.
After a federal judge in Alabama declined to block many provisions, the 11th Circuit temporarily blocked parts of the law, including a requirement for schools to check students' immigration status. But the appeals court left intact a section that allows police to check a person's immigration status during a traffic stop and to detain someone they believe is in the country illegally. Courts also can't enforce contracts involving illegal immigrants, such as leases, and it's a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state for basic things such as getting a driver's license.