Supreme Court Enters Arizona Fray
On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether Arizona may impose its tough anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070, including a requirement that state-law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if the officials have reason to believe that the individual might be an undocumented immigrant. The Ninth Circuit blocked the provision and others in this Draconian, controversial law, which was enacted in 2010 and spawned copycat legislation in a number of other states. By taking on the case, the Court has thrust itself into the center of American political life and will weigh in on what has been called one of the most combustible issues in American politics. The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in the case, however, may not have precedential value. Justice Elena Kagan will not take part in the decision of the high court – she worked on the issue previously while solicitor general – which raises the prospect of a 4 to 4 vote. If that were to happen, the Court’s decision would carry no precedential significance for the other state laws being challenged. The Court is expected to hear the case in April.
Federal Court Challenges to Utah and South Carolina State Immigration Laws
In the wake of congressional inaction on immigration, state legislatures continue to attempt to reform the law and the federal government continues to wrestle with the states to maintain its control or preemptive rights over the issue. As these battles persist and are played out in the federal courts, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been center stage. In addition to suits in Arizona and Alabama, DOJ recently filed a lawsuit in federal district court against a South Carolina law, Act No. 69, parts of which go into effect, on January 1. Filed on behalf of the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security, the lawsuit argues that certain provisions of the South Carolina law are unconstitutional and interfere with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy. Then, on November 23, DOJ filed another suit, this time against Utah, to block implementation of HB 497, which mandates that local police enforce immigration laws. These laws are similar to those in Arizona (SB 1070) and Alabama. (The same day the Supreme Court accepted review of Arizona’s SB 1070, a federal court blocked a provision of Alabama’s immigration law that would have forced undocumented immigrants to leave their mobile homes. The ruling means that people paying for their annual mobile home registration tags required for residence will not have to prove their legal residency for now.) DOJ is also reviewing laws in Georgia and Indiana that already have been challenged by private groups and individuals.
In its press releases announcing these lawsuits, DOJ cited the irreparable harm caused by the laws, including “the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens, who cannot readily prove their lawful status.” The reality of this concern was borne out recently when a German Mercedes Benz executive was arrested under Alabama’s anti-immigrant law while in town visiting the automaker’s facilities, followed by the arrest of a Japanese Honda employee also in Alabama.
Clearly, DOJ’s efforts in these cases reflect a commitment to protecting constitutional principles and individual rights, which we applaud.