Monday, June 25, 2012

Arizona's Immigration Law Is Mostly Unconstitutional, Says US Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court handed down its long anticiated ruling in Arizona v. Untied States, putting at issue Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, passed in 2010.  The Ninth Circuit struck down the law in its entirety, and Arizona appealed to the US Supreme Court. Today, the US Supreme Court struck down three of four provisions as violating the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution.
The Arizona law sought to criminalize the failure to comply with federal registration requirements for illegal alieans, and seeking employment or engaging in work in Arizona while being an illegal alien. SB 1070 also gave authority to Arizona law enforcement to arrest without a warrant anyone who the officer had probable cause to believe is an illegal alien, and to stop, detain or arrest to determine a person's immigration status.
The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution has been interpreted to provide that in areas where the federal government intends that its laws occupy the entire subject matter of that law, no state can enact laws that attempt to address that subject matter.  It has long been held that the federal government occupies the entire subject matter of immigration and that states cannot regulate this subject matter.  In striking down the criminal elements and the authority to arrest without a warrant granted by SB 1070, the US Supreme Court pointed out that the federal government has established that illegal alien status is a civil, not criminal matter, and that the federal government has the sole discretion to make such policy decisions regarding immigration and its enforcement.  The Court stated, "Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime."  The Court went on to state that the federal government has the power to consider equities in forming policies regarding enforcement of the federal immigration laws.
This particular point gets to the heart of the matter.  Arixona's SB 1070 sought to make criminals of immigrants, who may be hard working, otherwise law abiding residents.  This is not Arizona's call. This is the federal government's call.  The scare tactics employed by Arizona law makers that illegal aliens are all rampant, violent criminals, casts a net that ensnares workers trying to make a living and who make a positiove contribution to society.  Enacting laws based on fear and ignorance harken back to some of the darker moments in human history, and should have no part in this country's democratic society.  Additionally, the Supremacy Clause prevents the 50 states from enacting 50 different sets of immigration laws, as the federal government already has a body of law in place. 
The Court upheld the provision of SB 1070 that authorizes Arizona law enforcement to "make a 'reasonable attempt . . . to determine the immigration status' of any person they stop, detain, or arrest . . ."  The Court emphasized that SB 1070 provided that the "stop and check" provision could not be the result of racial profiling and that communication between federal and state authorities was inherent and imperative. 
Despite holding the challenge to the stop and check provision of SB 1070 as being premature because Arizona courts did not have an opportunity to interpret how it will be enforced, the Court specifically left open future challenges to the stop and check provision based on Arizona's enforcement and interpretation of its law.



  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

  2. I see Federal immigration law states that local and state government can inquire into the status of a person. The only difference is that AZ law says that they must do it. However, they still have discretion as to whether or not they will do it. Thanks, @Rose
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