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Immigration Ruling Shows Limits Of State’s Rights

Immigration Ruling Shows Limits Of State’s Rights

In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court handed the Obama administration a largely sweeping victory in its battle over immigration policy and Arizona’s draconian “paper’s please” law.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority and Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from the decision. The majority ruled that most of the challenged provisions were preempted by federal law. Those parts includes the parts of the law that criminalizes one’s presence in Arizona without citizenship documentation, criminalizes working or looking for food without legal status, and the provision that permits police to arrest people without a warrant if there’s suspicion that they’ve committed a deportable crime.

The court did not just rule Arizona could not criminalize people based on immigration status, it did so strongly. From the opinion:

Federal law makes a single sovereign responsible for maintaining a comprehensive and unified system to keep track of aliens within the Nation’s borders. If §3 of the Arizona statute were valid, every State could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations, “diminish[ing] the [Federal Government]’s control over enforcement” and “detract[ing] from the ‘integrated scheme of regulation’ created by Congress.”

Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, sent a strong message that there are limits even this court has when embracing the state’s rights movement.

The only provision of the law to stand is the one permitting police to check a person’s immigration status during lawful arrest, and even this provision is on shaky ground.
Like the others, this part of the law was challenged simply as being in conflict with federal law. There was not an immediate challenge to the constitutionality of the racial profiling driving this provision. So, the fact this provision stands can’t be read as an endorsement of the policy the law puts forth– a point the majority opinion makes clear. For now, the court simply ruled that Arizona can enact a law that allows police officers to check immigration status during a lawful arrest. It could not rule on whether Arizona’s law was constitutional from an equal protection/due process standpoint because that wasn’t the challenge before it.

But the majority left open the door for future challenges to the law and gave potential future plaintiffs hope their complaints would receive a fair hearing by at least 5 of the sitting justices.

The National Government has significant power to regulate immigration. With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the Nation’s meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse. Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.

This is a significant win for human rights advocates and a significant loss for the hard right in this country. The law that Mitt Romney has gone on record as a “model for the nation” was just soundly rejected by all but the most radical members of the court.

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Photo from Narith5 via flickr.

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24 comments

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10:31PM PST on Jan 25, 2013

Thank you.

10:31PM PST on Jan 25, 2013

Thank you.

6:54PM PST on Jan 19, 2013

thanks

3:42PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

“Common sense 101....” (Steve R., 6-26-12) AS OPPOSSED TO GRADUATING FROM HIGH SCHOOL

“Law enforcement exists to catch and punish people that break the law.”
WRONG: LAW ENFORCEMENT IS PART OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THE GOVERNMENT; CONVICTION AND SENTENCING ARE PART OF THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF THE GOVERNMENT

“Entering the USA without due process is prohibited by law by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! It is a criminal offense!” CORRECT: WHICH MEANS THAT IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO LEGISLATE AND REGULATE SUCH

“So what do we call it when the Federal government tries to STOP the states enforcing it's own FEDERAL LAW?” INVALID QUESTION: THE USA DOES NOT HAVE ANY MEXICAN LAWS, MEXICO DOES NOT HAVE ANY SPANISH LAWS, GREECE DOESN’T HAVE ANY ITALIAN LAWS, AND THE STATES IN THE USA DO NOT HAVE ANY FEDERAL LAWS THAT THEY CAN CALL “THEIR OWN FEDERAL LAWS”

“We call it "Democrats are desperate" for votes.”
DUH…EVERYONE RUNNING FOR ANY TYPE OF POLITICAL OFFICE IS DESPERATE FOR VOTES…DUH

“No need to thank me - I'm just doing my civic duty, clearing up any confusion that bleeding hearts might have on the subject of Arizona and SCOTUS!”
NO NEED TO THANK ME, I’M JUST DOING MY CIVIC D

10:36AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Common sense 101....

Law enforcement exists to catch and punish people that break the law.

Entering the USA without due process is prohibited by law by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! It is a criminal offense!

So what do we call it when the Federal government tries to STOP the states enforcing it's own FEDERAL LAW?

We call it "Democrats are desperate" for votes.

No need to thank me - I'm just doing my civic duty, clearing up any confusion that bleeding hearts might have on the subject of Arizona and SCOTUS!

9:59AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

"Immigration Ruling Shows Limits Of State’s Rights"

Ha, no it doesn't. It shows our government is being run by a bunch brainless twit politicians who are embarrassing us before the world.

8:06AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Limits on states rights? Be careful what you cheer for everyone.

7:43AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

This is great news!

7:13AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Strange John M, because according to the state's own records, there are fewer illegal immigrants under Obama than under Bush, who did nothing about the immigration problem. Also under Obama, more have been deported than under Bush.

But then Obama is half black, so I guess that explains your comment.

7:10AM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

What good are laws,that are not enforced?..

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