Today, the Supreme Court issued a decision invalidating most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, Arizona’s so-called “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” by a vote of 5 to 3. The United States Supreme Court held that 3 of the 4 provisions of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 law are preempted by federal immigration law, under Article VI of the United States Constitution. The supremacy clause of Article VI binds states and municipalities to Federal law.
In issuing today’s ruling the Supreme Court held that states do not have the authority to establish and regulate state enforcement regarding the treatment of immigrant communities, under Federal law.
SB1070 was passed by that Arizona’s legislature early in 2010. The State’s Act made it a state crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents, required that state law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest”, or during a “lawful contact” not specific to any activity when there is “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is an illegal immigrant.The law also barred state or local officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws, and banned undocumented persons from applying for work, and criminalizes those sheltering, hiring and transporting illegal aliens.
The Bill was sponsored by Arizona Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, who voters ousted in a recall election in March 2011. Much of the drafting of the bill was done by Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, and a prominant advisor on immigration issues to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Immediately following the ruling the Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform (AZEIR), a grassroots association of small businesses that strongly opposed SB1070 issued a statement applauding the Court’s decision, “The Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070 is a significant win for those demanding sensible immigration reform. Today’s strong 5-3 Supreme Court opinion that three of the four sections of SB1070 challenged by the U.S. Dept. of Justice are unconstitutional should put an end to the argument that states can insert themselves in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The Court rejected Arizona’s argument SB1070 simply mirrors federal law, can institute state criminal penalties where no federal penalties exist, or arrest someone without a warrant whom the officer has probable cause to believe has committed a deportable crime. We believe these are the correct decisions.
On the “reasonable suspicion” clause of SB1070 that allows law enforcement to inquire into immigration status, that the Court partially allowed to stand, AZEIR noted, “The Court did not affirm the show-me-your-papers section either; rather the Court said it is premature to make a determination as to the Constitutionality of section 2(B). Constitutionality will turn on how it is enforced and what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ attempt to verify legal status. ‘The state courts may conclude that, unless the person continues to be suspected of some crime for which he may be detained by state officers, it would not be reasonable to prolong the stop for the immigration inquiry.’ Moreover, the Court said, “This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect’ ” The AZIER statement said.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s oldest and largest Hispanic civil rights organization and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) also praised the ruling.
“We are encouraged by today’s decision and it is a major court victory for immigrant communities,” said LULAC National President Margaret Moran. “We remain committed to our legal challenge against the ‘papers please’ provision that was left standing by the court which requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain if they ‘think’ the person might be undocumented.”
However, LULAC cautioned that it remained troubled that the Court allowed the section of SB1070 that permits law enforcement to check into immigration status if a “reasonable suspicion” exists to stand. The organization also joined others in calling for comprehensive immigration reform.
“Specific concern is the portion of the Supreme Court ruling that permits law enforcement in Arizona to check the immigration status of individuals while enforcing other laws if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the United States illegally. Presently, LULAC and MALDEF have cases pending in federal district court that focus on racial profiling. We believe that this is the remaining key element subject to abuse by law enforcement and we will continue to fight for fair enforcement of the laws.
“It is also important to remember that during oral arguments, the Supreme Court acknowledged the need for comprehensive immigration reform and we hope this decision helps spur Congress to meet this need by passing a much needed legislation. LULAC said in its’ statement issued immediately following the ruling.
Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF also applauded the Court’s decision, “By striking down three of the four provisions before the Court, the decision sends a strong warning to any states or localities that have enacted or that may be considering enacting their own immigration regulation schemes. In short, the Court’s decision should bring to a grinding halt the machinery of intolerance and racism that has promoted these laws. Arizona, in particular, has paid a very high price for what amounts to a very limited, even Pyrrhic, victory today” Saenz said.
Saenz also noted that attempts by conservative commentators and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, to put a positive spin on the ruling amounted to grasping at straws, “Every schoolchild knows that a report card showing three ‘F’s and one ‘Incomplete’, together with plenty of negative commentary and dire future warnings from your teachers, is not remotely a victory or occasion for boasting or pride of any kind” Saenz said.