Supreme Court Rejects Most of Arizona Immigration Law S.B. 1070

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on the U.S. Justice Department’s challenge to Arizona’s S.B. 1070 immigration law in a split decision. Four provisions of the law had been enjoined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Arizona had challenged the injunction, bringing the case to the Supreme Court.  

Section 2(B) of the law was upheld on narrow grounds. This provision, commonly known as “papers, please,” requires state police to check the immigration status of anyone they have reasonable suspicion to believe is in the U.S. unlawfully. The Court held that this provision can be implemented by the State of Arizona because the Justice Department had not adequately demonstrated that it should be enjoined. The majority justices clearly left room, however, for future challenges after implementation on the basis of racial profiling or other grounds.

Additional provisions of the law that were struck down are: Section 3, creating a state crime for being in the U.S. without legal authorization; Section 5(c), which made it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job or work in Arizona; and Section 4, which permitted state police to arrest individuals believed to have committed a crime for which they could be deported. In each case, the Supreme Court held that the state law was preempted by the federal regulatory scheme concerning immigration matters.

While this decision only targeted Arizona’s law, several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah, have laws which were patterned on Arizona’s law that are being challenged in the lower federal courts. The lower courts will now review or complete their decisions to bring them into accord with today’s decision.

This decision recognized that state laws have a part in the regulation of immigration, but that they must carefully craft laws to not interfere with the federal government’s more comprehensive role in immigration policy. “This decision illustrates once again the immense difficulty of creating an intelligent and effective immigration policy for the twenty-first century,” said MSEC attorney Chris Bauer. “The decision’s thorough investigation of federal preemption issues provides welcome direction for states continuing to legislate in this area, but the fundamental issues are not resolved.” She predicted that we will continue to see lots of activity in state legislation.