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Arizona appeals -- now what?

Arizona has now asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a fast-track review of its request to put a hold on this week's order by Judge Susan Bolton. Her ruling blocked the state from enforcing the most controversial parts of its new immigration law.

The first thing the appeals court will do is set a schedule for submitting written legal briefs and hearing oral argument. Arizona wants all that done by the week of Sept. 13. The Justice Department suggests a somewhat slower process with oral argument in mid-October. Either way would move this along at a faster pace than a normal case would proceed.

Quick action is needed, the state says, because Judge Bolton's order has blocked a law the legislature deemed "critical to address serious criminal, environmental and economic problems Arizona has been suffering as a consequence of illegal immigration and the lack of effective enforcement by the federal government." The Justice Department, however, argues that the only effect of the judge's order "is to preserve a status quo that has existed for a long period of time."

The appeal will be assigned to a panel made up of three judges, the usual first stop in a federal appellate court. There's no time limit for a ruling.

Whichever side loses then has a choice; It can either ask the full 9th Circuit Appeals Court to hear the case, or it can go directly to the Supreme Court. There are strategic reasons for getting the full court to weigh in first, but that will depend on what the panel says.

Arizona could have tried to do two things at this stage which it did not: It could have sought emergency review, which would have speeded things up even more, and it could have asked the appeals court for an immediate stay of Judge Bolton's ruling. Legal experts doubted the state would have succeeded with either request, and the state's lawyers apparently thought the same.