The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to strike down three out of four key elements of Arizona’s tough immigration law had people on both sides of the issue trumpeting victory Monday.
In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said Arizona’s law infringed on congressional authority over the nation’s borders. The court rejected parts of law that made it a state crime to fail to carry alien registration papers and authorized warrantless arrests of people suspected of committing deportable offenses. The court also struck down a provision that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to seek work.
But the court upheld the law’s much-debated “show me your papers” provision, which requires state and local police to check immigration status during lawful traffic stops.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is a mixed one,” said Arizona Rep. Kirk Adams. “Immigration will continue to be a primary responsibility of the federal government but, as this decision confirms, state and local law enforcement have an important role to play.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer hailed the decision as 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,” she said in a statement.
Brewer said she expects her critics, who “undoubtedly will allege inequities in the implementation of the law,” to regroup and pursue new litigation tactics.
“As I said two years ago on the day I signed SB 1070 into law, we cannot give them that chance,” she said. “We must use this new tool wisely, and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves.”
Immigrant advocates called the decision “encouraging,” a “step in the right direction” and “a major court victory for immigrant communities.”
“The decision to strike down key provisions of this legislation is a victory for everyone in the faith community who seeks to follow the Bible’s call for concern for the vulnerable and ‘stranger’ among us,” said Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to social justice. “Arizona’s immoral legislation threatened families, harmed children and made it difficult for law enforcement to safeguard the communities they swore to protect.”
It’s vital, though, he said to “ensure any remaining parts of the legislation are never used to justify racial profiling by local police.”
Already, immigrant advocates are pushing for renewed effort in the battle against state immigration enforcement policies.
“By allowing that section to remain, the court is condoning state interference in immigration enforcement,” Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, said in a statement. “Across the country, this patchwork of state laws is creating more confusion in an already chaotic immigration system and burdening communities with legal costs as these discriminatory laws are challenged in court.”
While the ruling was mixed, legal experts said Monday’s decision favored opponents of the law.
“Three of the four provisions were struck down outright, and the fourth — the so-called ‘papers please’ provision — was upheld on narrow grounds, on a very narrow understanding of how that portion of the bill will be applied,” Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, told The Wall Street Journal. “The ‘papers please’ provision [section 2(B) of the law] got the lion’s share of media attention, so supporters of the law have something to cheer about. But Justice Kennedy gave a clear signal that it could still be struck down at a later time if it’s applied in a way that doesn’t comport with the Constitution. Kennedy upheld 2(B) on the assumption that it will be reasonably applied.”
On a practical level, the Supreme Court took most of the teeth out of Arizona’s law, wrote political reporter Terry Moran in an op-ed for ABC News.
“All the Arizona cops can do is inform federal immigration authorities if they round up an illegal immigrant,” Moran wrote. “And the feds are perfectly free to ignore them. That’s a lot of hoo-ha, and a lot of police paperwork, for a pretty trifling payoff.”
By upholding part of the law, though, the court supported the idea that it’s OK to “make things so difficult for illegal immigrants that they would deport themselves.”
“From an emotional standpoint, this decision might deepen the divide among Americans on this issue,” he wrote.
The ruling may have implications for other states that have enacted similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah have passed laws with lawful stop provisions. Alabama and South Carolina’s laws makes it a state crime to fail to have immigration papers handy. Indiana’s SB 590 allows officers to make warrantless arrests.
In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, fewer states pursued immigration bills in 2012, the NCSL reported. In the first quarter of 2012, legislators introduced 865 bills and resolutions, compared to 1,538 in the first quarter of 2011.
Going forward, states will “have to really almost go back to square one and really rethink their approach and how much time and money they want to put into these types of statutes,” Dan Kowalski, an immigration lawyer at the Fowler Law Firm in Austin, Texas, told CNN. “Number one: They’re going to have to spend a lot of money on lawyers to try to craft something that they think can withstand Supreme Court scrutiny; Number two: they’re going to have to budget money for further litigation because, no matter what they propose on a state level, it’s going to be challenged. That costs a lot of money. So they’re going to have to figure out if it’s worth it.”