Monday, June 25, 2012

Urban Beat: SCOTUS Rules 5-3 Against Key Parts of AZ's Immigration Law

Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor struck down key parts of Arizona's controversial immigration law which sought to require state and local police officers to check the immigration status of people suspected to be illegal immigrants.  Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.  Justice Kagan recused herself from the case.

See the Text of the Case HERE.

Our Breakdown after the jump:

As you might recall in our previous posts,  there were 4 sections of the Arizona immigration law that were debated before the Supreme Court.  Those 4 sections are:

  •     Section 2(B): requires every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested, or detained if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country unlawfully;
  •     Section 3: criminalizes the failure to carry an “alien registration document;'"
  •     Section 5(C): criminalizes undocumented immigrants applying for employment or being employed;
  •     Section 6:  authorizes warrantless arrests if based upon probable cause that a person has committed a deportable crime.
In it's decision today, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the following sections:
  •     Section 3 - Found unconstitutional because it is preempted by Federal law.  Congress made it clear that the Federal Government -- and not the state government -- should regulate the field of alien registration so any State law seeking to criminalize people for failing to carry an "alien registration document" intrudes on that field.
  •     Section 5(C) - Found unconstitutional because Federal law only imposes civil penalties -- not criminal penalties -- for undocumented immigrants who work in the United States without a permit.  A State law that seeks to impose a criminal penalty on this issue conflicts with, and must therefore be preempted by, Federal law.
  •     Section 6 - Found unconstitutional because making a warrantless arrest of certain aliens suspected of being removable conflicts with and goes beyond how Federal law deals with the same situation.  Although Federal law allows State officers to cooperate with Federal officers in the removal of illegal aliens from the United States, Federal law does not allow State officers to unilaterally detain people without a warrant.
Which leaves the most controversial section of the law, Section 2(B), which earned the law the nickname among critics as the "Paper's Please" law.

With respect to Section 2(B) the Supreme Court said that it was improper to strike it down at this time because, as you might recall, Arizona's law has not been allowed to go into effect yet.  The Department of Justice filed this lawsuit against the law after it was passed but before it could go into effect.  Therefore, the Supreme Court found that the State courts in Arizona have not yet had an opportunity to determine whether Section 2(B)'s enforcement by Arizona police officers actually conflicts with Federal law or not.

It is also important to note the following part of the Court's ruling about Section 2(B):

It is not clear at this stage and on this record that §2(B), in practice, will require state officers to delay the release of detainees for no reason other than to verify their immigration status. This would raise constitutional concerns. And it would disrupt the federal framework to put state officers in the position of holding aliens in custody for possible unlawful presence without federal direction and supervision....Without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume §2(B) will be construed in a way that conflicts with federal law...This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect. (emphasis supplied)
In other words, we're going to leave Section 2(B) in place...FOR NOW...but don't get it twisted, this section is not out of the woods yet.   So if it turns out that Arizona police officers following Section 2(B) are applying the law in an unequal manner that violates the Constitution (for example, if they pull over more Latino's based on this law than they do Whites) then Section 2(B) can be found unconstitutional just like the other 3 sections of this law.  

As you might recall during oral argument, Chief Justice Roberts specifically asked the Obama Administration, represented by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, if racial profiling was a part of the Federal Government's argument against Arizona's law.  Verrilli confirmed that it was not.  At the time, many critics on the Left and Right mistakenly took this to mean that the Obama Administration was abandoning the issue of racial profiling in this case.  To the contrary, as we can see today, it was preserving it for a later time.  Had the Obama Administration raised racial profiling at this time, and had the Supreme Court ruled on it, the Obama Administration would be precluded from raising that issue when it challenges Section 2(B) in the future.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that this administration is going to want to challenge this law in the future.

1. Do you think the ruling was fair?
2. Are you surprised to see Chief Justice Roberts join forces with the liberal justices on this issue?
3. Do you think that Section 2(B) will encourage racial profiling once the law is allowed to go into effect?
4. What are the political ramifications of this holding, if any, for the General Election?

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