[author: Aaron Kase]
The Supreme Court today overturned most of a controversial Arizona immigration law, but left in place a provision that allows local and state police to check a person’s immigration papers while making a stop or arrest for other violations.
In a 5-3 decision, the court threw out three of the law’s four provisions that were being challenged in what is being hailed as a major victory for the Obama administration. Arizona, and by extension other states, will not be allowed to enforce a law that bans people without work permits from looking for a job, nor can they mandate immigrants to carry identification papers, nor tell police to arrest people solely on the suspicion that they have committed a deportable offense. The Department of Justice had sought to block the law, arguing that Arizona has no right to supercede federal law on immigration.
Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued an opinion overturning most of the laws provisions. “The federal power to determine immigration policy is well settled,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “Immigration policy can affect trade, investment, tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire Nation, as well as the perceptions and expectations of aliens in this country who seek the full protection of its laws.”
Critics had attacked the law as discriminatory and for codifying racial profiling by in effect allowing (or mandating) police to stop and ask for papers from anyone who looked Hispanic.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, arguing that the law should have been upheld. “As a sovereign, Arizona has the inherent power to exclude persons from its territory, subject only to those limitations expressed in the Constitution or constitutionally imposed by Congress,” Scalia wrote in the scathing 22-page dissent.
Bizarrely, Scalia brought up President Obama’s announcement last week that he would cease deporting immigrants who were brought into the country as children in certain circumstances, an executive order which did not occur for months after the court heard the arguments in Arizona vs. United States and had no bearing on the case whatsoever.
Thomas added a separate opinion in dissent. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because she had worked on it as solicitor general.