Supreme Court strikes down much of Arizona immigration law

The high court, however, let stand the provision for police to check immigration status of people they stop

The Supreme Court yesterday finally handed down its decision on one of the most highly anticipated issues on the docket.

In Arizona et al v. United States, the high court struck down the three harshest parts of the nation’s strictest and most controversial immigration law, which was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.

Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) went beyond the U.S. federal law requiring all aliens over the age of 14 who are in the U.S. longer than 14 days to have registration documents in their possession at all times by making it a state misdemeanor crime for not having the proper paperwork.

The law also requires state police officers to attempt to ascertain a person’s immigration status during lawful stops or arrests, or “lawful conduct” when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant. Additionally, SB 1070 prevents state or local officials and agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws and cracks down on people who hire, transport or shelter illegals.

After the law spent more than two years in the spotlight, the Supreme Court mostly sided with the law’s critics, ruling that the state of Arizona interfered with congressional authority over U.S. borders. By a vote of 6-2, the high court nullified the provision making it a state crime for immigrants to not carry federal registration papers. By a vote of 5-3, the court also voided sections of the law that sanctioned jail time for illegal immigrants who are searching for work in Arizona, and that gave state and local police additional powers to arrest immigrants suspected of offenses.

However, the high court did let stand the provision requiring police to check immigration status of people they stop. Given that federal law already requires immigration authorities to respond to state and local officers’ inquiries, the court saw no problem with the provision. The court did leave some room for a possible challenge to this provision, though, should it lead to overlong detention of people solely to check immigration status.

“The Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. “Immigration policy can affect trade, investment, tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire Nation, as well as the perceptions and expectations of aliens in this country who seek the full protection of its laws. Perceived mistreatment of aliens in the United States may lead to harmful reciprocal treatment of American citizens abroad.”

Of the remaining justices, Justice Samuel Alito agreed with the majority that the state’s alien-registration requirement was invalid, but voted in favor of upholding the law’s provisions to make it unlawful for illegal aliens to seek work and sanction warrantless arrests of some aliens.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas both filed separate dissents asserting that the law should be upheld in its entirety, while Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because she served as solicitor general during its early stages.

For more on the Supreme Court’s decision, read the Wall Street Journal.

For more from InsideCounsel on immigration and labor laws, read:

Alabama’s controversial immigration law goes to court

Alabama to revise controversial immigration law

Heated immigration battleground shifts to South Carolina

Pro-union NLRB alarms employers

Civil rights groups’ attempt to block Alabama immigration provisions denied

Federal judge partially rejects bid to block Alabama immigration law

Judge puts the brakes on Alabama’s immigration law

Federal judge hears Alabama immigration law case

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