On Monday, the Supreme Court delivered its much anticipated decision on the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, formally known as S.B. 1070. The court rejected much of the law but upheld the controversial provision that allows the state’s police to check the immigration status of people they detain—leaving both sides to declare some sort of victory and refocusing attention on President Obama’s negligent immigration policy.
Of the four sections in the law before the Supreme Court, the court backed a section referred to as “check your papers” that calls for police to check the immigration status of people they stop in traffic violations or are arrested for other charges.
The court held up this section unanimously, deciding it was not clear whether Arizona was undermining or supporting federal immigration policy by requiring state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from people suspected to be in the country illegally. This provision also requires police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested before they can be released.
The other three sections, which the court rejected, made it a state crime for immigrants without work permits to seek employment and for them to fail to carry registration documents. It also authorized police to arrest any immigrant they believed has committed a deportable offense.
Current federal law penalizes employers who hire illegal workers, but does not punish those illegal employees for seeking jobs.
In the 5-3 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the decision because she was working on the case as President Obama’s solicitor general at the time the federal government filed the suit.
In a statement released by the Arizona Governor’s Office, Governor Jan Brewer touted the decision as upholding the “heart” of Arizona’s law and called the decision “a victory for the rule of law. It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”
Brewer wrote that she issued a new Executive Order reinstating training for police officers to “enforce this law efficiently, effectively and in a manner consistent with the Constitution.”
On the other hand, President Obama said in reaction to the ruling he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions” of the 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,” the President claimed.
GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney weighed in on the decision as well, claiming that “today’s decision underscores the need for a President who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy. President Obama has failed to provide any leadership on immigration….I believe that each state has the duty–and the right– to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.”
Romney’s statement was in response to the fact that Obama’s statement did not address the reasons Arizona enacted S.B. 1070 in the first places, specifically that the law was a reaction to the federal government’s failure to enforce and support current federal immigration laws.
Likewise, the President himself recently undercut enforcement of federal immigration laws on June 15 by declaring that the Department of Homeland Security would no longer enforce the deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The debate surrounding immigration policy is likely to continue, especially as the 2012 general election nears and considering that Hispanics continue to grow as a share of the electorate.
And as Governor Brewer noted, the law will inevitably face further criticism and future litigation as civil rights groups will continue to claim the “papers please” provision invites racial profiling.Immigration groups could still bring a legal challenge to the the law based on an argument that was not brought before the court: claims that the law discriminates on the basis of race and ethnic background.
Although the current ruling is over, the fight over the Arizona immigration law is likely to be continued.