PHOENIX (Reuters) - A federal judge blocked Arizona on Wednesday from enforcing a part of the state's immigration law that prohibits vehicle occupants from stopping traffic to pick up day laborers waiting for work.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, in issuing a preliminary injunction, ruled that plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law were "likely to succeed on the merits of their claim" that the rules violate the First Amendment.
Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer passed the state's tough immigration law in April 2010, seeking to clamp down on illegal immigrants in the Mexico border state.
The section of the controversial law Bolton blocked on Wednesday sought to target people who employ migrant workers in the country illegally, many of whom gather in store parking lots and on curbsides in Phoenix to tout for work.
The non-profit National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which was a plaintiff in the suit, hailed the ruling.
"Today's decision is a victory for day laborers and everyone who cherishes the First Amendment right to free expression on public streets and sidewalks," network attorney Jessica Karp said in a statement.
"In seeking to silence day laborers, the state of Arizona trampled on the U.S. Constitution. Day laborers fought back and bravely defended the First Amendment for the benefit of all," she said.
Arizona's tough immigration crackdown had wide support in the state but was opposed by President Barack Obama, many Democrats and civil rights groups.
Opponents of the law said it would lead to harassment of Hispanic-Americans. Obama has called such "piecemeal" state legislation a mistake and warned that having 50 different immigration laws around the country is untenable.
In addition to the day labor provisions, the Arizona law includes a requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone they detained and suspected was in the country illegally. That was among measures blocked by Bolton before it came into effect in July 2010.
Arizona appealed the previous rulings placing the most controversial parts of the law on hold to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 25.
Brewer said in a statement she was disappointed by Wednesday's ruling, which she described as an "erroneous decision by the U.S. District Court to strike down a significant public safety component" of the law, dubbed SB 1070.
"The provision, which would have prohibited day laborers from blocking traffic when seeking work on public roadways, was put in place as a necessary traffic safety measure," Brewer said.
"This ruling provides yet another reason why I look forward to the Supreme Court providing guidance on the constitutionality of SB 1070. I am confident that, when the case reaches the High Court in April, the constitutionality of SB 1070 will be affirmed," she added.
The Supreme Court's hearing next month on Arizona's appeal will be closely watched by Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, which have all passed "omnibus" immigration crackdowns since the desert state blazed the trail two years ago.
Additional reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Cynthia Johnston