High Court Strikes Parts of Ariz. Immigration Law

By Mark Walsh — June 25, 2012 2 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down most challenged provisions of Arizona’s immigration law, a move that at the very least raises new doubts about school-specific measures such as Alabama’s requirement that school officials ask about the citizenship status of new students.

The immigration decision came on a busy day for the high court. The justices ruled 5-4 to strike down laws mandating life without parole for juveniles convicted of homicide. And the court declined appeals in two school cases but agreed to take up an employment-discrimination issue in the context of education. I’ll have separate items later on the juvenile sentencing case and the court’s denials and the grant.

The court ruled 5-3 in Arizona v. United States that three provisions of that state’s immigration law were pre-empted by federal law. Those provisions made it a state misdemeanor for aliens not to carry registration documents, for aliens to apply for work or work without proper authorization, and required the police to arrest aliens if they had cause to believe they were “removable” under federal immigration law.

The decision was 8-0 to uphold, for now, a fourth provision, which requires state and local police officers to attempt to determine the immigration status of those they lawfully stop if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the United States unlawfully.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said, “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration, ... but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. each filed opinions concurring in the upholding of the status-check provision but stating they would uphold the other provisions (except in Alito’s case, in which he agreed with the majority that the registration-documents provision was pre-empted).

Justice Scalia read a summary of his dissent from the bench, saying that “Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.”

“The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively.”

In a statement, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed the law known as SB1070 into law, said the Supreme Court had upheld the “heart” of the statute.

Alabama officials said they were studying the decision for its implications for their state’s law.

“While Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration law has similar provisions to Arizona’s law, the laws are not identical,” said Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in a statement. “The Supreme Court has affirmed that states can determine how they will interpret and enforce their anti-illegal immigration laws.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.