He delivered a halting defense of Obamacare before the Supreme Court, and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did it again Wednesday, appearing unfocused in arguing against Arizona’s immigration law, says Terry Greene Sterling.

As hundreds of Latinos crowded in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday and chanted opposition to Arizona’s immigration law, it got a partial constitutional airing in what appeared to be a humiliating slap-down of the U.S. solicitor general.

Arizona’s SB 1070 case, along with another on the Affordable Care Act heard by the court earlier this year, are two landmarks that will shape the Obama administration’s legacy. In both cases, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli faced off against Paul Clement, a former solicitor general who frequently appears before the court. On Wednesday, Verrilli lost focus and failed to drive home key points as he was questioned by conservative justices and gently rebuked by liberal justices. At one point, Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Verrilli she was “terribly confused” by his answer; at another, she noted: “Your argument isn’t selling very well.”

The SB 1070 case is expected to produce guidelines for future immigration enforcement. But it is also about civil rights, said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, director of National Council of La Raza’s civic engagement and immigration department. “That’s how the Latino community not only has seen it but also have been feeling it,” she said. “Many times,” she added, when cases “move inside the courtroom,” they are “sterilized beyond recognition and the implications are masked.”

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