Updated Jun 25, 2012 - 7:03 pm
Supreme Court upholds portions of Arizona's SB 1070
The Supreme Court has found in favor of the U.S. government, partially striking down key portions of Arizona's controversial illegal immigration bill, SB 1070.
The Court voted 5-3 and struck down these provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
The court said one part of the law requiring police to check the status of someone they suspect is not in the United States legally could go forward. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges.
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court that was unanimous on allowing the status check to go forward. The court was divided on striking down the other portions.
Arizona took a hit after the initial ruling when the Department of Homeland Security announced that federal authorities will decline many of the calls reporting illegal immigrants that the department may get from Arizona law enforcement.
President Barack Obama said he is pleased the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the law but voiced concern about what the high court left intact.
"On balance, it's a good ruling," said Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. "I'm heartened that we won the big one," referring to the status check.
Gov. Jan Brewer said, "This is the day we've been waiting for. Make no mistake, Arizona is ready. ... Civil rights will be protected and racial profiling will not be tolerated."
Republican senators Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona said the ruling is a validation of the state's efforts to protect its borders.
Kyl and McCain said in a joint statement Monday they want to fully review the court's decision but believe the state will be better served with law enforcement being allowed to enforce part of the law.
The law directly challenged the federal government's authority to oversee immigration issues. There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is in Scottsdale for a fundraiser, said in statement made over the weekend from Utah, the ruling "underscores the need for a president who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy."
He said, "I believe that each state has the duty -- and the right-- to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities."
Kennedy wrote obliquely about the impasse at the national level.
"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," he said.
SB 1070 made it a misdemeanor in Arizona for a non-U.S. citizen over the age of 14, who had been in the country for more than 30 days, to not carry their federal documentation on their person at all times.
The SB 1070 case has been one of the most-watched cases since it was first signed into law in April 2010. It has been met by demonstrations -- both for and against -- and has seen several states follow its precedent. In total, five states have enacted a similar measure.
Critics of the law said it encourages racial profiling by law enforcement agents who may use someone's race, skin color or nation of origin as the sole reason for investigating their immigration status.
"I would view it as a net win for the administration," said Valley immigration attorney Regina Jefferies. "There are strict guidelines to follow."
The court wrote: "Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers or aliens who commit a serious crime."
Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have adopted variations on Arizona's law. Parts of those laws also are on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined all of Kennedy's opinion.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would have allowed all the challenged provisions to take effect.
Justice Samuel Alito would have allowed police to arrest undocumented immigrants who seek work, and also make arrests without warrants.
Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case because of her work in the Obama administration.
Scalia, in comments from the bench, caustically described the president's recently announced plans to ease deportation rules for some children of illegal immigrants.
"The president said at a news conference that the new program is 'the right thing to do' in light of Congress' failure to pass the administration's proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so.
"But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind," Scalia said.
The Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, said the decision opens the way to racial profiling by police.
Civil rights groups that separately challenged the law over concerns that it would lead to rights abuses said their lawsuit would go on.
Even with the limitations the high court put on Arizona, the immigration status check still is "an invitation to racial profiling," said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Omar Jadwat.
Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio disagrees. "We are well-trained to perform our duties in this matter," pointing to training his deputies received from U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement.
The ruling can be found here.
Associated Press contributed to this article.