Here's What The Supreme Court's Arizona Immigration Ruling REALLY Means

Supreme Court

Photo: AP

As soon as the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Arizona immigration law,critics and opponents of the law started wildly spinning the decision to fit their narratives. For Arizona Gov. Jan Brewerwho signed SB1070 into law, the decision — which struck down three out of four of the law’s key provisions — was a “victory for the rule of law.”

Conservative cable network Fox News backed her up with their banner broadcast headline: Supreme Court Upholds Parts Of Arizona Immigration Law.

On the other end of the political spectrum, President Barack Obama, whose administration was challenging the constitutionality of the law, also said he was “pleased” with the ruling. Liberal cable news network MSNBC announced the news with the headline: High Court Strikes Down Most Of AZ Immigration Law.  

So, who’s right? The answer is mixed, but the Supreme Court sided mostly with the federal government. The Obama administration didn’t get all of its wishes, but three of the four key provisions were ruled unconstitutional. Here’s what the Supreme Court struck down, ruling that these provisions were preempted by federal immigration law: 

  • Making it a state crime for illegal immigrants to not carry and possess their federal registration cards. 
  • Making it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or apply for work, or solicit work in a public place. 
  • Allowing state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant with probable cause when they committed “any public offence that makes the person removable from the United States.” 

But the law’s most controversial provision — the “papers please” provision that requires law enforcement officials to check the legal status of detained and arrested people with reasonable suspicion — was left standing, a ruling that favours Arizona.

But the Supreme Court didn’t exactly “uphold” the provision — it simply said there is not enough information to determine whether it conflicts with federal law. 

Here’s the key part of the ruling:

The Federal Government has brought suit against a sovereign State to challenge the provision even before the law has gone into effect. There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced. At this stage, 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 creates a conflict with federal law.

Translation: We need to see how the law is practiced and enforced before we decide whether this state law conflicts with federal immigration law. But the court did leave their opinion open, saying it “does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”

Now read Antonin Scalia’s scathing dissent on the Arizona immigration decision >

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