Arizona v. U.S.: What’s Next for the State’s Controversial Immigration Law?
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its second most anticipated decision of the session in Arizona v. U.S. If not for the Affordable Care Act, Arizona’s controversial immigration law would have definitely garnered top billing.
The Court’s opinion upheld a key provision of the law while invalidating others. Ultimately, it likely set the ground rules for a continued debate on the status of immigration reform.
The Facts of the Case
In 2010, Arizona passed a law known as S. B. 1070. It intended to address issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens in the state. Section 3 makes failure to comply with federal alien-registration requirements a state misdemeanor; Section 5(C) makes it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in the State; Section 6 authorizes state and local officers to arrest without a warrant a person “the officer has probable cause to believe . . . has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States”; and Section 2(B) requires officers conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to make efforts, in some circumstances, to verify the person’s immigration status with the federal government.
The United States sought to enjoin the law, arguing it is preempted by federal law. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing four of its provisions from taking effect and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The case then proceeded to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court ultimately held that federal law preempted Sections 3, 5(C), and 6 of Arizona’s immigration law. However, it left Section 2(B)—widely referred to as the “show me your papers” provision—intact.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy summarized the majority’s standpoint by stating, “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
With regard to the provisions it deemed preempted, the Court concluded that they interfered with the federal immigration scheme. As the Court highlighted, state laws are preempted when they conflict with federal law, including when they stand “as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.”
While the Court invalidated the other provisions on these grounds, it found that the mandatory nature of the status checks did not interfere with the federal immigration scheme. As the majority noted, “Consultation between federal and state officials is an important feature of the immigration system. In fact, Congress has encouraged the sharing of information about possible immigration violations.”
However, the Court was also clear that it was leaving the door open to further challenges. “It is not clear at this stage and on this record that §2(B), in practice, will require state officers to delay the release of detainees for no reason other than to verify their immigration status. This would raise constitutional concerns,” the Court stated.
Both supporters and critics of immigration reform are now using the Supreme Court’s split decision to further their efforts. Supporters are seeking to enact “show my your papers” laws in other states, while critics are working to overturn immigration laws with criminal penalties. At the same time, both sides are likely preparing for additional legal battles.
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