Today the Supreme Court ruled against the state of Arizona in the controversial case involving SB 1070, a state law concerning immigration. Most of the key provisions of the law were declared unconstitutional, including the provision which requires law enforcement officers to ask for immigration papers of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. One relatively minor part of the law, which requires law enforcement to check on the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime before they are released, was upheld, but only on the condition that the law does not conflict with federal law in the future. The full decision can be read here. A summary of the decision can be read below.
The Court first ruled that the federal government has broad and “undoubted power over immigration and alien status” through Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. The power to deal with immigration also falls under the “inherent sovereign power to control and conduct foreign relations.” This part of the decision is consistent with former Supreme Court cases, where the Court has held that the federal government alone has the power to regulate immigration.
The Court then ruled that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the power to preempt state law. The Court ruled that states are “precluded from regulating conduct in a field that Congress has determined must be regulated by its exclusive governance.” The Court declared that immigration is one of those fields, since the federal regulation over immigration is so “pervasive” and “complex.”
Moving on to SB 1070, the court said that section 3 must be struck down since it “intrudes on the field of alien registration.” Section 3 made it a state crime to violate federal immigration laws, and created state criminal penalties for those who violated those laws.
The Court also struck down section 5 of SB 1070, which made it illegal for anyone to transport anyone who is in the country illegally, or to conceal, harbor, or shield anyone who is the in the country illegally.
The Court held off a decision on section 2B, saying it was too early to declare the law constitutional or not. Section 2B required law enforcement officers to check on the immigration status of any person who is arrested in Arizona. Basically, the Court ruled that section 2B could be construed in such a way that it survives, but it must be “implemented in a manner consistent with federal law regulating immigration, protecting the civil rights of all persons and respecting the privileges and immunities of United States citizens.” In effect, this means that Arizona can continue to enforce Section 2B, but the state must tread carefully, as the Court left open the possibility of later striking down the provision.