Breaking News

Court strikes down much of Arizona immigration law

This morning, the Court handed down its decision in Arizona v. United States, the case involving Arizona’s attempt to supplement federal immigration enforcement through several state law measures.  The Court reviewed four provisions of the statute, holding that three are preempted by federal law.  Section 2(B) – which requires the police to check the immigration status of detained individuals before releasing them – is the only provision that potentially survived.

Lyle Denniston wrote extensive pieces before and after the oral argument in the case.  In brief, in 2010 Arizona enacted a law (often referred to as “S.B. 1070,” its bill number) designed to discourage illegal immigration into the state and to facilitate the deportation of illegal immigrants who were already there.  The federal government filed a lawsuit to stop enforcement of many of the provisions of the law, arguing that the Constitution gives the federal government alone the authority to control immigration and that Arizona was treading on that exclusive authority in S.B. 1070.  (Importantly, although many have complained that the law invites racial profiling or violation of individuals’ civil rights, those arguments are not at issue in the case – the only issue is whether the law is invalid because it attempts to exercise a power over immigration that belongs solely to the federal government.)

The Ninth Circuit ordered Arizona not to implement four parts of the statute while the case was litigated.  Arizona asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, which it did, resulting in today’s decision.

Here is a rundown on the Court’s ruling with respect to each relevant challenge:

1.  Police Checks.  Section 2(B) of the law requires the police to check the immigration status of persons whom they detain before releasing them. The Court held that the lower courts were wrong to prevent this provision from going into effect while its lawfulness is being litigated.  It was not sufficiently clear that the provision would be held preempted, the Court held.  The Court took pains to point out that the law, on its face, prohibits stops based on race or national origin and provides that the stops must be conducted consistent with federal immigration and civil rights laws.  However, it held open that the provision could eventually be invalidated after trial.

2.  State Law Crime of Being In The Country Illegally.  Although federal law already makes it illegal for someone to be in the country without proper authorization, Section 3 of the Arizona statute also makes it a state crime, subject to additional fines and possible imprisonment.  The Court held that this provision was preempted and cannot be enforced.  The Court held that Congress has left no room for states to regulate in this field, even to implement the federal prohibition.

3.  Ban on Working In The State.  Section 5(C) of the statute also makes it a state crime for undocumented immigrants from applying for a job or working in the state.   It is also held preempted as imposing an obstacle to the federal regulatory system.  Because Congress obviously chose not make working in the country without proper authorization a federal crime, states cannot enact additional criminal penalties Congress decided not to impose.

4.  Warrantless Arrest Of Individuals Believed To Have Committed A Deportable Crime.  Section 6 of the statute authorizes state law enforcement officials to arrest without a warrant any individual otherwise lawfully in the country, if law enforcement officials have probable cause to believe the individual has committed a deportable offense.   The Court held that this provision is preempted.  Whether and when to arrest someone for being unlawfully in the country is a question solely for the federal government.



Recommended Citation: Kevin Russell, Court strikes down much of Arizona immigration law, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 25, 2012, 10:46 AM),