Supreme Court Upholds Key Part of Controversial Arizona Immgration Law
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on Arizona’s controversial immigration law: it took the U.S. government side on all but one key part of the Arizona law, in effect saying Arizona went too far on some parts. But the key part it upheld — the police’s right to check the immigration status of people they detain — could help Democrats’ efforts to get a whopping majority of Latino voters to vote for them and for Barack Obama.
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected much of Arizona’s tough new immigration law but allowed one key provision to stand, saying federal law did not pre-empt the state’s instruction to its police to check the immigration status of people they detain.
Several other important provisions of the law conflicted with federal laws, the court found, rejecting provisions that made it a state crime for immigrants not to register with the federal government or to seek or hold jobs without proper documents, and allowing warrantless arrests of some people suspected of being deportable.
The Obama administration had urged the court to strike down the whole law, including its provision requiring state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of people they stop and suspect are not in the United States legally. That provision also requires that the immigration status of people who are arrested be determined before they are released.
This is a decision where both sides will say they won:
Except on the one provision — to be sure, the one that had seized the most public attention — the Supreme Court’s decision affirmed the finding of a San Francisco appeals court that had blocked the Arizona statute from taking effect for the time being. It sent the case back to the appeals court.
Monday’s decision, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, was 5 to 3; Justice Elena Kagan was recused because of her previous role as solicitor general. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
And expect legal challenges on this issue to continue:
But on the question of allowing the status checks, the court was unanimous.
Even after the Supreme Court’s ruling that one key provision was not automatically pre-empted, immigration groups will be able to challenge it based on an argument that the court was not considering: that the law discriminates on the basis of race and ethnic background.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled largely in favor of the federal government Monday in a case involving Arizona’s immigration law, but it upheld the most controversial provision involving police checks on people’s immigration status while enforcing other laws.
In a decision sure to ripple across the political landscape in a presidential election year, the court’s 5-3 ruling struck down key parts of the Arizona law.
“The national government has significant power to regulate immigration,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, adding that “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermined federal law.
The majority concluded the federal government had the power to block SB1070, though the court upheld one of the most controversial parts of the bill — a provision that lets police check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the United States illegally.
In its ruling, the high court made clear the immigration status provision could still face future constitutional challenges depending on how the state enforces it.
The federal government challenged four provisions of the Arizona law that never were enforced, pending the legal ruling.
Provisions struck down included:
– Authorizing police to arrest immigrants without warrant where “probable cause” exists that they committed any public offense making them removable from the country.
– Making it a state crime for “unauthorized immigrants” to fail to carry registration papers and other government identification.
– Forbidding those not authorized for employment in the United States to apply, solicit or perform work. That would include immigrants standing in a parking lot who “gesture or nod” their willingness to be employed.
The stage now seems to be set for more political and legal wrangles over the issue. In 2012 election year, the Republican Party’s conservative base is going to want to press for tougher federal action. GOPers will declare victory due to the police portion being upheld. Latino groups are likely to point to the importance of the Supreme Court and some will be upset over the part upheld — and not forget any Republican declarations of victory on this provision.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has now declared victory against the federal government due to this ruling.
NBC’s Pete Williams reported that “there are other lawsuits against this law. There are several civil liberties groups suing in Arizona, claiming that this law is racial profiling, and those cases have yet to work their way through the courts.”
Monday’s decision was a partial victory for President Obama who had criticized the Arizona law, saying it “threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”
In a statement Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law, claimed that the high court ruling was “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 Justice Department had moved quickly in 2010 to block enforcement of the law. The administration had argued that the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the federal government, not the states, and that where the federal government has pre-empted state action, no state can intrude on that federal turf.
The majority on Monday essentially agreed with that argument.
In response to the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said the court “was right to strike down the vast majority of the Arizona law.” The decision “shows that the Obama administration was right to challenge this law, which was not just ill-advised but also unconstitutional,” he said in a statement.
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.”
He said it was “disturbing” that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had called the Arizona law a “model” for immigration reform. “Laws that legalize discrimination are not compatible with our nation’s ideals and traditions of equal rights, and the idea that such an unconstitutional law should serve as a ‘model’ for national reform is far outside the American mainstream,” Reid said.
A key question: with the police provision standing, will this thrust the issue of racial profiling back into the news and into political debate? Pundits and reporters predict the issue will be back in court..
The politics? Obama can keep the issue of reform and the court on the burner all through election day. It will likely help Obama with his party’s base. Romney still has to walk a political tightrope on this issue given what Latin voters hope to hear and what the GOP base demands. And every day the issue is not the economy, is not the kind of day Romney wants.