Supreme Court Issues Split Decision On Arizona Immigration Law
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the court's opinion in what was a 5-3 vote, in which the majority agreed that three of the four provisions of State Bill 1070 reviewed by the court were in conflict with federal immigration law. The eight-justice panel comes because Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, having worked on the legal challenges to this law while serving as Solicitor General under President Obama. The court, however, was unanimous in its support for the keynote "papers please" part of the law. As Reuters reports:
"Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration ... but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law," Justice Kennedy wrote in a 25-page opinion.
Kennedy said the mandatory nature of police checks did not interfere with the federal immigration scheme, and found unpersuasive the Obama administration's argument that this portion of the law must be preempted at this stage.
He said it was improper to block that provision before state courts had an opportunity to review it, and without some showing that its enforcement conflicted with federal immigration law. Kennedy also left open the possibility for future constitutional or other challenges to the law once it goes into effect."
The part of the law upheld by the court, Section 2(B), has been a flashpoint for public reaction, with critics saying that any law requiring police officers to check immigration status if there is a "reasonable suspicion" of that person being in the country illegally will automatically lead to racial profiling of Latinos. One high-profile opponent of the law, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, has said this provision will coerce his officers into engaging in such "illegal profiling." SCOTUSblog has more on the Supreme Court's thought process on this aspect of the law:
"Section 2(B) of the law requires the police to check the immigration status of persons whom they detain before releasing them. The Court held that the lower courts were wrong to prevent this provision from going into effect while its lawfulness is being litigated. It was not sufficiently clear that the provision would be held preempted, the Court held. The Court took pains to point out that the law, on its face, prohibits stops based on race or national origin and provides that the stops must be conducted consistent with federal immigration and civil rights laws. However, it held open that the provision could eventually be invalidated after trial."
While the split ruling adds some nuance to what is too often winners-and-losers scoreboard politics, it did not prevent Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, an enthusiastic proponent of SB 1070, from claiming it as a triumph and vindication for her position, in a statement provided to Politico:
"'Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is 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,' the Republican governor said in a statement. 'After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.'"
President Obama has publicly opposed SB 1070 from the start, and his recent executive order halting deportations of some younger immigrants has allowed him to carve out a position on immigration reform that draws a sharp contrast to the Jan Brewer wing of the Republican party. The president released a statement reacting to the ruling:
"I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration 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.
At the same time, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally."
His opponent in November's general election, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, responded in a way that seemed to vaguely endorse the court's ruling, while calling for a broader solution for immigration and border security. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
"Romney said Monday's ruling '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.' He said, '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.'"
According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid praised the court for striking down three of the four provisions, while remaining worried about the one upheld:
"In response to Monday’s ruling, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said the court 'was right to strike down the vast majority of the Arizona law.'
But Reid also expressed concern that the provision allowed to stand would put U.S. citizens at risk of 'being detained by police unless they carry their immigration papers at all times' and would 'lead to a system of racial profiling.'"
Gov. Brewer is expected to speak later today on the decision.
Reach Executive Producer Matt Pressberg here.