Arizona SB 1070: “show me your papers” provision still stands, Supreme Court rules
The Court struck down three out of four provisions of the immigration law that were challenged.
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down several key provisions of Arizona’s illegal immigration crackdown law, but let stand its most controversial language that requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals stopped who are suspected to be in the country illegally.
In a 5-3 decision, the court ruled against three major provisions in the law, popularly known as SB 1070:
- Language that makes it a state crime for non-citizen immigrants not to carry federal registration papers proving they reside legally in the U.S.
- A provision that makes it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to work, apply for work, or seek work.
- Language that allows police to make warrantless arrests of individuals who “committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”
The Court also ruled that additional legal challenges could go forward in the future that question the “papers please” provision. Whereas the federal government’s case against the law rested on the premise that federal law supersedes Arizona, other suits against “papers please” challenge it on civil rights grounds (that it racially profiles Latinos).
The Obama administration and opponents of the law argued that it should be knocked down in its entirety while supporters of the law hoped that the court would uphold all its provisions. Following oral arguments, several observers expected a split decision that would leave the “papers please” language in place.
The bottom line is that while many tough provisions in the law were overturned, the one that critics say would allow racial profiling of Latinos has been allowed to stand.
All eight justices participating, including Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that it was improper for lower courts to invalidate the “papers please” language before Arizona could implement it, albeit under a narrow reading.
“It was improper to enjoin §2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that §2(B)’s enforcement in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “The mandatory nature of the status checks does not interfere with the federal immigration scheme.”
The court indicated the provision could be overturned by future lawsuits, for example, if immigration status checks cause authorities to delay the release of a detainee.
“If the law only requires state officers to conduct a status check during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released, the provision would likely survive preemption—at least absent some showing that it has other consequences that are adverse to federal law and its objectives,” Kennedy wrote.
But five of the eight justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, said that the other provisions that essentially make it a crime to be undocumented in Arizona conflict with federal law.
“As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States,” wrote Kennedy. “The federal scheme instructs when it is appropriate to arrest an alien during the removal process.”
Dissenting from the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Arizona’s law simply enhanced federal law.
“Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty—not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it,” he wrote. “The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively. If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State.”
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case due to her past role as President Obama’s solicitor general, in which she dealt with the Arizona law.
Both sides of the debate saw victories in the Court’s ruling.
Immigrant-rights activists said that the mixed ruling was expected, but expressed disappointment that the “papers please” provision (Section 2(B)) was upheld.
Important: surviving #SB1070 section says police must ask for ID from anyone they stop with “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful presence …— Ali Noorani (@anoorani) June 25, 2012
BIg question re: SCOTUS ruling: would a cop stop and check the immigration status of someone who doesn’t look Latino?— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) June 25, 2012
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told Univision News that the ruling is a “mixed decision” but that her group is concerned about the affects of the law moving forward.
“Law enforcement can still stop people, that is very worrisome,” she said.
Supporters of the law were encouraged by the the Court’s decision.
“After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed SB 1070 into law, said in a statement.
But other public officials and court-watchers, supporters and opponents alike, saw it as a victory for the Obama administration, since the decision knocked down tough provisions that would have granted an extra layer of power to Arizona to enforce immigration laws. The fact that the decision mandated that the state apply the “papers please” provision narrowly suggested it could be knocked down in a future challenge.
“The Supreme Court was right to strike down the vast majority of the Arizona law. With three out of four provisions being struck down, the ruling shows that the Obama administration was right to challenge this law, which was not just-ill advised but also unconstitutional,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
The Arizona case has been very-closely watched in the Latino community both inside and outside the state. Univision and Telemundo cut into regularly-scheduled programming to announce the decision and anticipation on the ground was palpable.
(Photo: Flickr, Talk Radio News)