How Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio Ended Up in Court—PICTURES

July 18, 2012, 4 a.m.

Mari­copa County Sher­iff Joe Arpaio is to go on tri­al in Ari­zona on Thursday over a class-ac­tion law­suit al­leging that he and his de­part­ment have dis­crim­in­ated against His­pan­ics re­gard­less of wheth­er they are leg­al cit­izens. The tri­al is likely to be the first of many civil-rights law­suits against of­ficers tread­ing the fine line between en­for­cing Ari­zona’s im­mig­ra­tion law and re­spect­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al rights of the state’s cit­izens.

The class-ac­tion case, filed jointly by the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on and the Mex­ic­an Amer­ic­an Leg­al De­fense and Edu­ca­tion­al Fund, is not seek­ing dam­ages but is ask­ing Arpaio and the de­part­ment to set stronger safe­guards against dis­crim­in­a­tion. Arpaio has denied all al­leg­a­tions of dis­crim­in­a­tion.

In June, the Su­preme Court up­held most of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­ser­tions that Ari­zona’s im­mig­ra­tion law, known as S.B. 1070, was pree­mp­ted by fed­er­al au­thor­ity to en­force im­mig­ra­tion. The single pro­vi­sion that sur­vived — the re­quire­ment for of­ficers to check the im­mig­ra­tion status dur­ing traffic stops if there is “reas­on­able sus­pi­cion” — is ex­pec­ted to even­tu­ally be tested in the civil-rights courts.

The Justice De­part­ment has its own civil law­suit against Arpaio that is pending tri­al, which it filed in May. But first, Arpaio must sur­vive this tri­al. The jour­ney of im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment in Ari­zona is a long one, es­pe­cially since the state has an es­tim­ated 460,000 il­leg­al im­mig­rants.

Arpaio, the county’s sher­iff since 1993, has an en­tangled his­tory with im­mig­ra­tion en­force­ment. We’ve put to­geth­er a short timeline of events that have led to the tri­al.