U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Most of Arizona Immigration Law

By Teresa Anderson

The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision today on S.B. 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The Court ruled that three out of the four contested provisions in are unconstitutional. The provision allowing law enforcement to check immigration status is legal, ruled the Court, so long as it is interpreted narrowly.

The Court struck down the part of the law making it a state crime for illegal immigrants to be in Arizona. The Court noted that it is already a federal crime to be in the country illegally and that states have no rights to regulate this issue.

Similarly, the Court ruled that the portion of the law making it a crime for illegal aliens to work in the state is unconstitutional. This provision of the state law would have penalized employers who hired illegal aliens as well. In speaking to this issue, the Court noted that the federal government holds the power to regulate such issues and that the government decided not to make such actions illegal. In the written opinion of the case, the Court noted that “Congress decided it would be inappropriate to impose criminal penalties on unauthorized employees. It follows that a state law to the contrary is an obstacle to the regulatory system Congress chose.”

The third provision struck down by the Court would have allowed state law enforcement officials to arrest, without a warrant, any individuals suspected of committing a deportable offense. Again, the Court noted that these federal powers may not be performed by state law enforcement. The Court wrote that the law “attempts to provide state officers with even greater arrest authority, which they could exercise with no instruction from the federal government. This is not the system Congress created.”

The Court ruled that the portion of the law allowing state law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status after an arrest could stand because this power does belong to the state. However, the court warned that all stops must be conducted according to civil rights laws and individuals could not be stopped based on their race or national origin. Should this portion of the law impinge on these rights, further legal action should be expected.

The Court wrote: “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. Without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume [that he provision] will be construed in a way that conflicts with federal law.”

"I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration law. What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem," said President Barack Obama.

photo by tolomea/flickr


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