U.S. Supreme Court Mostly Affirms Federal Government's Supremacy over Immigration Law in Arizona Ruling

U.S. Route 66

In what both major sides of the national immigration debate are calling a victory, the Supreme Court ruled on the case challenging Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The court struck down three of the four challenged provisions, but affirmed the constitutionality of the provision requiring state and local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status if, during a legal stop, the officer has probable to cause to suspect that the person lacks legal status. This provision, along with the other three, raised questions about whether the state was infringing on areas of federal government authority. In striking down three of the questionable provisions of the law, the Supreme Court has mostly affirmed that the federal government has authority over matters pertaining to immigration law and policy. The provision that they upheld may cause problems for immigrants, immigration attorneys, and law enforcement for some time.

The Obama administration’s lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070, the comprehensive immigration law it passed in the summer of 2010. The provisions of the law reviewed by the Supreme Court have never gone into effect because of various court orders. The four challenged provisions would:

  • Make it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to seek employment;
  • Make it a state crime for any immigrant to not carry immigration documents;
  • Allow police to arrest, without a warrant, someone they believe to have committed an offense that would render them deportable under federal immigration law; and – Require police to investigate suspects’ immigration status.

The Supreme Court, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion for the 5-3 decision, struck down the first three provisions listed above. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the proceedings. Kennedy cited the federal government’s power over immigration law and policy, as established by Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution, and the Supremacy Clause in Article VI, clause 2. Federal immigration law preempts these provisions, which the majority of justices found to intrude on the federal government’s authority. In the case of the warrantless arrest provision, the Court found that, because an undocumented immigrant is not automatically committing a crime, arrest at the discretion of local law enforcement intrudes on federal immigration authorities’ discretion to determine when to arrest someone.

With regard to the one provision upheld by the Court, which requires local law enforcement to investigate a suspect’s immigration status, the Court held that the provision did not inherently conflict with federal law or federal authority. The Court imposed significant responsibilities on Arizona to ensure that the implementation of the law fits with federal enforcement efforts. State authorities must abide by federal standards for civil rights, may not engage in racial profiling, and must accept a valid state driver’s license or similar identification as proof of legal immigration status. It remains to be seen whether Arizona will be able to implement the law without violating people’s civil rights. The Supreme Court’s decision at least looks like an effort to constrain the law’s more discriminatory effects.

The United States immigration system is often complex and beset by politics. Contact Gus Shihab today online or at (800) 625-3404 to schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer who can help guide you through the system.

Web Resources
More Blog Posts

Supreme Court Rules On Arizona Immigration Law, Strikes Down 3 of 4 Parts While Upholding Key Part, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, June 25, 2012
Immigration Advocates Complain to DHS of Abuse of Citizens and Immigrants at U.S. Points of Entry, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2012
White House Announces New Policy Towards Young Undocumented Immigrants, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2012
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