Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against key sections of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law, while leaving the most hotly disputed provision intact.
The Courts struck down sections 3, 5, and 6 of the law because they were preempted by federal law. Those sections of the law did the following:
- Section 3 made it a state misdemeanor for illegal immigrants to not carry around their federal alien registration documents at all times
- Section 5(C) made it a crime for illegal aliens to look for work in the state of Arizona, something that is not a crime in federal immigration law
- Section 6 said that Arizona police officer could arrest without a warrant anyone they suspected of being an illegal alien
The most controversial part of the law was Section 2(B), which requires Arizona police to make a “reasonable attempt . . . to determine the immigration status” of anyone they arrest or detain if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the individual might be an illegal immigrant. That portion of the law was left unscathed, though it may be subject to future legal challenges on the basis that it incentivizes racial profiling. The ACLU has already vowed to continue fighting the law in court.
The Court said that "without the benefit of a definitive interpretation" of Section 2(B) by Arizona state courts, they would be unable to determine whether or not that portion of the bill conflicted with federal immigration law. "This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the lawas interpreted and applied after it goes into effect," the Court's legal decision reads.
The law was passed in April 2010 in the midst of a national furor, with critics calling it the "Papers, Please" law and insisting that it would lead to widespread racial profiling. From the very beginning, the law was subject to numerous legal challenges, including a lawsuit from the federal Justice Department. According to the Tucson Citizen, Arizona state officials have spent over $3 million defending the law, most of it coming from private donations.
Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney at one point called the Arizona law a “model” for the country as the nation grapples with immigration, but later walked those comments back to say it was the state’s employee status verification law he supported. He also said he would throw out the federal government’s lawsuit on the matter.
He remained silent on Arizona during his speech on immigration to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference last Thursday.
“Politically, this is probably the worst of all outcomes if you’re Mitt Romney,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said on Jansing & Co. shortly after the ruling was handed down. “What we learn from the Supreme Court is simple: there can’t be 50 different immigration laws..."
Todd added: "Any day they’re talking about immigration is a bad day for [the Romney] campaign.”
UPDATE: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has released a statement calling it a "victory":
Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law. It is also a victory for the 10thAmendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens. After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.
Of course, today’s ruling does not mark the end of our journey. It can be expected that legal challenges to SB 1070 and the State of Arizona will continue. Our critics are already preparing new litigation tactics in response to their loss at the Supreme Court, and undoubtedly will allege inequities in the implementation of the law. As I said two years ago on the day I signed SB 1070 into law, ‘We cannot give them that chance. We must use this new tool wisely, and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves.'
However, Pete Williams of NBC News noted on MSNBC Monday that "it’s the narrowest possible victory for the state, because the court struck down three [provisions].”
UPDATE II: The executive director of Arizona's State Democratic Party, Luis Heredia, has also issued a statement:
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled section 2B of SB 1070 to be constitutional. That does not make it just or moral. Other parts were ruled unconstitutional as further evidence why this law is flawed.
This law is simply a tool of divisive voices for political gain, one that damages our state's credibility and economy. As a result, Arizona families have paid the price with $23 million in lost tax revenue and at least $350 million lost in direct spending by convention-goers. SB 1070 has failed Arizona.
Today’s decision is a call to action. It reminds us of the rash and irresponsible overreach of the Republican Legislature. It also signals that now is the time to elect leaders who will get our state back on track. Arizona families deserve better politicians who respect law enforcement, work to create jobs and enact laws that will protect the individual rights of all citizens.
The Supreme Court has said section 2B of SB 1070 is constitutional. That does not make it right.
Rose Gordon Sala contributed to this report.