Supreme Court Ruling on Arizona’s Immigration Law

  • August 10, 2012
  • Richard Newman

In June 2012, the Supreme Court struck down most of an Arizona state law that would have allowed Arizona to enforce its own immigration laws. The Supreme Court stated that Arizona’s immigration laws conflict with federal authority in the area of immigration. In so doing the Supreme Court asserted the federal government’s broad power to regulate immigration.

The Supreme Court let stand a part of the law requiring state and local police in Arizona to check the immigration status of individuals who are stopped, arrested or detained.  However, this kind of status check must not be done in way that is discriminatory or otherwise conflicts with federal law.  As such, it is possible that this provision of the Arizona law may be challenged in the future.

The Supreme Court ruled that federal law entirely superseded two main provisions of the Arizona law which would have made it a state crime to fail to carry immigration documents or to work without authorization. The Court also invalidated a provision that would have allowed police to arrest an individual without a warrant if there was cause to believe that person had committed an offense that would make them removable (deportable) from the United States.

The Court’s decision limits the power of the states to enforce immigration law independently of the federal government. Supreme Court Judge Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority of the judges, acknowledged that some states bear many of the consequences of unlawful immigration, but may not make policies that undermine federal law.

The Supreme Court’s decision was the second decision on the Arizona immigration law since last year.  In May 2011, the Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law called the Legal Arizona Workers Act that allows the state to suspend the business licenses of employers who hire unauthorized workers.  The Court found that this provision was permitted as a narrow exception to a federal law that otherwise preempts states from penalizing employers who engage in unauthorized employment.