US Supreme Court Watch

Brian Craig, Online Paralegal Program Chair at Globe University, Minnesota School of Business and Broadview University is watching the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions this week along with
many in the United States. He wrote the following article after the release of the Arizona v. United States decision today.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law today but allowed one of the key provisions to stand in a split 5-3 decision.

An Arizona statute known as S.B. 1070 was enacted in 2010 to address pressing issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens in Arizona. The federal government sought an injunction to prevent implementation of the Arizona law based on the theory that federal law preempts state law. The main issue in the case,
Arizona v. United States, is whether federal law preempts and renders invalid four separate provisions of the Arizona law.

The Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law. Paragraph 2 of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is commonly referred to as the Supremacy Clause. This provision provides that the U.S. Constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over conflicting state laws. The specific language under the Supremacy Clause states “[t]his Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof . . . shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine with the title “The Decider,” wrote the majority opinion in the Arizona immigration case. The court struck down one provision of the state law that made it a state crime for immigrants not to carry federal registration paper. The Court also rules unconstitutional a provision in the Arizona law that created a crime for soliciting work. The third portion of the law struck down allowed state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant in certain cases.

The court, however, allowed a major component of the Arizona immigration law to stand that requires state and local police to check the immigration status of people they have stopped or detained if a “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally.

The Arizona immigration case is one of the most important cases involving both immigration law and federal preemption of state law in recent years. The case establishes an important precedent for future state attempts to deal with illegal immigration. Uncertainty about immigration law exists in the aftermath
of the Arizona immigration case. Future courts will sort out the interpretation of the provision dealing with checking the immigration status of persons detained.

Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion “At this stage, without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume (Section 2(B)) will be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law.”

Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito each filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Kagen took no part in the decision.

Justice Scalia’s wrote in his dissenting opinion that “As a sovereign, Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory, subject only to those limitations expressed in the Constitution or constitution- ally imposed by Congress.”

When it comes to immigration policy, is it better for all 50 states to have different policies in effect or should the federal government have one national law? In the pledge of allegiance, the words “one nation” are uttered. On the other hand, the United States is an indivisible union of sovereign states. To what extent should states be able to pass legislation targeted at immigration?

While the Arizona immigration case settles some questions, more questions remain.

The citation for the case is Arizona v. United States., — S.Ct. —-, 2012 WL 2368661 (U.S. Jun. 15, 2012).