Supreme Court Upholds Legal Arizona Workers Act

On May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the controversial Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA). The LAWA allows the state to revoke an employer’s business license it if knowingly hires illegal immigrants and requires employers to use E-Verify. Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting (2011).

The Court rejected arguments that the LAWA was preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) because of a savings clause in IRCA permitting state “licensing and similar laws.” The Court did not agree that the LAWA is not a “licensing” law, and is instead an employer sanctions law preempted by IRCA. The Court said that Arizona’s law, “falls well within the confines of the authority Congress chose to leave to the states and therefore is not expressly preempted. … As with any piece of legislation, Congress did indeed seek to strike a balance among a variety of interests when it enacted IRCA. … Part of that balance, however, involved allocating authority between the federal government and the states,” and through IRCA’s savings clause, Congress preserved state authority over sanctions imposed through licensing laws.
The Court also rejected the argument that the state E-Verify mandate impedes the federal government’s voluntary employment verification program. The Court found no conflict because the consequences for violating the LAWA are the same as the federal program. And, the Court found no language in the law establishing E-Verify prohibiting state action relating to the program.
The fate of Arizona S.B. 1070, making it a state offense for an unauthorized alien to solicit, apply for, or perform work, and to fail to carry immigration papers, is still undecided. On April 11, the Ninth Circuit upheld an injunction blocking key portions of the law from taking effect. United States v. Arizona (9th Cir. 2011).