The Supreme Court decided the Arizona immigration law, S.B. 1070. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
The Court struck the provisions dealing with state criminal penalties and other provisions which imposed procedural requirements on illegals in the state. Among the provisions the Court struck is the one requiring that a person be detained if the police officer believes the person is removable:
Section 6 attempts to provide state officers even greater authority to arrest aliens on the basis of possible removability than Congress has given to trained federal immigration officers. Under state law, officers who believe an alien is removable by reason of some “public offense” would have the power to conduct an arrest on that basis regardless of whether a federal warrant has issued or the alien is likely to escape. This state authority could be exercised without any input from the Federal Government about whether an arrest is warranted in a particular case. This would allow the State to achieve its own immigration policy. The result could be unnecessary harassment of some aliens (for instance, a veteran, college student, or someone assisting with a criminal investigation) whom federal officials determine should not be removed….
By authorizing state officers to decide whether an alien should be detained for being removable, §6 violates the principle that the removal process is entrusted to the discretion of the Federal Government.
But the Court upheld, for now, the provision requiring a check of immigration status for persons otherwise detained. The Court left open the possibility of additional legal challenges after the law goes into effect. So expect more litigation.
Section 2(B) of S. B. 1070 requires state officers to make a ”reasonable attempt . . . to determine the immigration status” of any person they stop, detain, or arrest on some other legitimate basis if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §11–1051(B) (West 2012). The law also provides that “[a]ny person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released.” Ibid. The accepted way to perform these status checks is to contact ICE,which maintains a database of immigration records….
However the law is interpreted, if §2(B) only requires state officers to conduct a status check during the course of an authorized, lawful detention or after a detainee has been released, the provision likely would survive pre-emption—at least absent some showing that it has other consequences that are adverse to federal law and its objectives….
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….
This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect…
The United States has established that §§3, 5(C), and 6of S. B. 1070 are preempted. It was improper, however, to enjoin §2(B) before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that enforcement of the provision in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives.
The net-net? The federal government did better than many expected, particularly on section 6. I don’t think many people thought state criminal sanctions and other state requirements would survive.
Section 2(B) remains in effect for now, which politically is a lot more palatable, because the immigration status check only takes place after a lawful detention. But there will be more litigation once the law is put into effect and applied.
Scalia dissented in part, and would have upheld the entire statute as a valid exercise of Arizona’s sovereignty:
What this case comes down to, then, is whether the Arizona law conflicts with federal immigration law—whether it excludes those whom federal law would admit, or admits those whom federal law would exclude. It does not purport to do so. It applies only to aliens who neither possess a privilege to be present under federal law nor have been removed pursuant to the Federal Government’s inherent authority….
The most important point is that, as we have discussed, Arizona is entitled to have “its own immigration policy”—including amore rigorous enforcement policy—so long as that does not conflict with federal law. The Court says, as though the point is utterly dispositive, that “it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States,” ante, at 15. It is not a federal crime, to be sure. But there is no reason Arizona cannot make it a state crime for a removable alien (or any illegal alien, for that matter) to remain present in Arizona….
Arizona has moved to protect its sovereignty—not in contradiction of federal law, but in complete compliance with it. The laws under challenge here do not extend or revise federal immigration restrictions, but merely enforce those restrictions more effectively. If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign State. I dissent.
Thomas joined Scalia in a separate partial dissent:
I agree with JUSTICE SCALIA that federal immigration law does not pre-empt any of the challenged provisions of
S. B. 1070. I reach that conclusion, however, for the simple reason that there is no conflict between the “ordinary meanin[g]” of the relevant federal laws and that of the four provisions of Arizona law at issue here.
Alito also filed a separate partial dissent, agreeing that section 2(B) was valid and section 3 (state penalties for violating federal law) preempted. He would have upheld the other provisions struck by the majority.
The United States’ attack on §2(B) is quite remarkable.The United States suggests that a state law may be preempted, not because it conflicts with a federal statute or regulation, but because it is inconsistent with a federal agency’s current enforcement priorities. Those priorities,however, are not law. They are nothing more than agency policy. I am aware of no decision of this Court recognizing that mere policy can have pre-emptive force….
It bears emphasizing that §6 does not mandate the warrantless apprehension of all aliens who have committed crimes for which they are removable. Instead, it only grants state and local officers permission to make such arrests. The trouble with this premature, facial challenge is that it affords Arizona no opportunity to implement its law in a way that would avoid any potential conflicts with federal law.